NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Bridging the Gap – January 2021

Professor Ian Bruce

Author: Professor Ian Bruce

NIHR Manchester BRC Director / Connective Tissue Disease Programme Lead

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I do hope you all had time for a break over the festive period, which for many now seems a distant memory. For our clinical colleagues working on the frontline, the pressure in and across the health and care sector remains very acute and the next few weeks will continue to stretch our services and people to the maximum. We have a lot of reason for hope and optimism however; the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine programme is really picking up pace, and many of our staff have helped with the vaccine roll-out along with the successful vaccine trials programme across Greater Manchester. In the past few weeks, there have also been positive results from clinical trials of treatments that improve further the outcomes for patients with COVID-19, and we are confident that more good news is just around the corner.

Our spotlight this month is on our Informatics and Data Sciences (IDS) research. This field underpins so much of modern medicine and treatments, and is essential to the personalised health and care which underpins the BRC’s P4 Medicine (prediction, prevention, personalisation and participatory) ethos. Its importance is well summarised by the #DataSavesLives campaign, which is another example of a ‘made in Manchester’ idea that now has national and international recognition.

Informatics and Data Science Spotlight

Manchester is home to world-leading expertise and facilities to support the development of new technologies, tools and techniques which can improve people’s health and care. As one of our cross-cutting themes, the Informatics and Data Science research team provides vital expertise and support across the breadth of our research portfolio. Manchester BRC and our partners are at the forefront of many exciting new developments in this area, and there is no doubt we are entering a new era for clinical data sciences that will have a material impact on health outcomes.

The Greater Manchester Care Record (GMCR) is an integrated digital care record for all 2.8m citizens in the region. Deployment of the GMCR was accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic by Health Innovation Manchester (HInM) and technology partner Graphnet Health. The GMCR integrates patient-level data from 446 general practices, nine acute trusts, one specialist trust, seven community care providers, and four mental health providers, and has been used for direct care since April 2020. Through collaborative efforts from GM partners, GMCR data is now also available for research under the GMCR for Research initiative – led by BRC Informatics and Data Sciences Cross-Cutting Theme Lead, Professor Niels Peek.

Access to the GMCR data for research purposes is currently restricted to GM university researchers, and to studies that consider the direct or indirect consequences of COVID-19. An early study about to start is the GM-COVID-Cancer study, led by Advanced Radiotherapy researcher Professor Corinne Faivre-Finn. This will study the risk of COVID-19-related hospital admissions and death in cancer patients across the Greater Manchester population, and will try to understand how cancer types and other risk factors affect admission rates and outcomes in this population. The team is currently exploring sustained access to the GMCR for University of Manchester researchers beyond COVID-19, and with a broader remit.

An unsung and often overlooked part of data sciences is investing in staff to really get to know the structure and types of data that already exist in clinical settings. Several of our themes have invested in staff to work within our host NHS Trust, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT). This early groundwork sowed the seeds for the establishment of MFT’s Clinical Data Science Unit (CDSU). The CDSU will be the focal point to access routinely collected clinical data for research purposes, and will also act as a bridge to the academic excellence in The University of Manchester (UoM).

The CDSU has used this collaborative expertise to model COVID-19 case numbers and predict the demand on our health service in GM during the pandemic. Beyond COVID-19, we now have the opportunity to take this further into other key areas including AI/machine learning and virtual reality approaches, with the clear focus to improve outcomes for the patients and communities we serve.

This month we also saw The University of Manchester launch the new Christabel Pankhurst Institute for Health Technology Research and Innovation. Through an initial £5 million investment from GM partners, this exciting new Institute aims to build on Manchester’s strengths in digital health and advanced materials, to develop cutting-edge products and services for the NHS and healthcare services. The online launch event was led by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, UoM President Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell and writer and activist Helen Pankhurst, which you can watch back here. Investment from wider partners could rise to £25 million.

Professor Niels Peek, our IDS Cross-Cutting Theme Lead, is also the Digital Health Lead for the Pankhurst Institute. Manchester BRC and the Pankhurst Institute will therefore share goals and objectives to allow a steady pipeline of innovations to be pulled through from discovery science in the University, through to proof of concept and further development for patients benefit in the BRC.

Advances in AI are now showing practical benefits for patient care with the ‘COntinious Signs Monitoring In Covid-19 patients’ (COSMIC-19) study. Led by BRC researcher Dr Fiona Thistlethwaite, the study is trialling innovative artificial intelligence (AI) wireless monitoring technology that could lead to quicker interventions for patients with COVID-19, by predicting those most likely to deteriorate. Spanning both MFT and The Christie, this is a great example of our One Manchester approach to research. Recruitment has grown steadily since its launch, and I look forward to seeing the findings when the study concludes.

Across the BRC

In wider BRC developments, we were excited to see young people involved in the Planet DIVOC-91 project – which has been supported by Dr Bella Starling and colleagues from Vocal – share their experience of the pandemic with the independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) committee, which you can watch back here. Planet DIVOC-91 is an online graphic novel empowering young adults to make sense of the challenges they face as a result of the pandemic, and you can take a look @PlanetDivoc91.

Professor Kevin Munro and his Hearing Health theme colleagues also published a call for new approaches to be made in the care for newborns with hearing loss. Continuing regular contributions from our Musculoskeletal (MSK) theme, Professor Maya Buch discusses MSK and cardiovascular disease in the latest issue of Arthritis Digest magazine.

Another exciting development on the horizon is the launch of our Innovation Training Scheme (ITS) – a joint initiative with Translation Manchester. Launching on 25 March (save the date!), this eight-month programme of online events will help equip and inspire researchers to develop innovations for clinical benefit alongside industry partners – with the programme taking them from essentials of industry partnerships, entrepreneurship, and IP, to building networks, commercialisation and pitching. We’ll have further details on the scheme next month, so stay tuned.

Finally, for training and development, if you’re a healthcare professional, Allied Health Professional (AHP) or student looking for your first taste of research, there’s still time to apply for our latest round of Experimental Medicine placements, before the 3 February deadline. There is also still time to register for our upcoming Interventions for Disease Prevention event on 11 February and we look forward to seeing you there. Also on the 11 February, we’re proud to be joining other Northern BRCs and the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) for an exciting webinar on multidisciplinary imaging and collaboration, which you can find more on here.

Thank you once again for reading this blog.

Take care and look after yourselves,

Professor Ian Bruce

Director, NIHR Manchester BRC