The Cambridge Children’s Research Institute will house six research centres, focusing on the most serious impediments to health and wellbeing that children and young people face in the UK and globally. Each centre will bring together exceptional talent from across the University and beyond.
Centre for Genomic Medicine
One of two flagship centres within the research institute, the Centre for Genomic Medicine will use cutting edge genomics to find new and improved diagnostics and treatments. Within its walls, we will develop clinically applicable methods — particularly whole genome sequencing and gene and cell therapies — to help prevent and treat rare diseases, especially focusing on serious genetic disorders of the brain.
The centre will be in an excellent position to draw interest towards rare disease in children from across the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. This, alongside our ability to capture comprehensive genomic patient data, ideally places us to understand the long-term impact of disease and help us improve health outcomes.
Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental Centre
Mental health conditions are a major and increasing cause of disability worldwide. Yet the psychological wellbeing of children and young people has never received the same priority as their physical health. Now is the time for us to rethink that perspective. The world-class expertise within the centre holds the potential to transform how mental healthcare is delivered in Cambridge, and around the world.
This second flagship research centre will integrate clinical and research work. We will focus on psychiatry, psychology and autism research, on the early detection of poor mental health in those with long-term or chronic conditions and on helping vulnerable groups who have higher rates of poor physical and mental health. Delivering joined-up healthcare that is as beneficial to the being, as it is to the body.
Infection and Inflammation Centre
The Infection and Inflammation Centre will study the impact serious infections have on children and young people who are acutely unwell. Through this research, we will aim to deepen our understanding of what role the immune system plays in infection and how inflammation affects brain and mental health. Researchers in this centre will also investigate the causes and long-term effects of chronic inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Using state-of-the-art approaches, researchers will test new treatments and work beyond environmental factors to personalise care for every child.
Our aim is to bring about a paradigm shift, away from reactive approaches, to one based on prevention, early detection and precision intervention that is fully capable of tackling even the rarest of childhood conditions.Prof David Rowitch, Head of Paediatrics, University of Cambridge
Childhood Cancer Centre
Cancer and blood disorders such as leukaemia, brain cancer and sickle cell disease continue to be leading causes of death and disability in children and young people. Improving the effectiveness and lessening the lifelong impact of treatment is a key priority for both the University and Cambridge Children’s Hospital.
Researchers in this centre will focus on questions around the early origins of childhood cancers. How can we detect signs in a simple blood test? What mental and physical rehabilitation should children go through after surgery? Where do paediatric cancers of the body and brain begin? Our academics are already at the forefront of translating genomic data into effective cancer treatment. Now, our ambition is to provide novel cell-based therapies for leukaemia and blood diseases and open up new gene therapy options.
Diabetes and Obesity Centre
Obesity and diabetes are leading causes of disease in children, with both conditions closely linked to socioeconomic status and, in some cases, genetic vulnerability. It is essential we expand on Cambridge University’s research into the early detection and possible prevention of Type-1 diabetes as soon as possible.
The Diabetes and Obesity Centre will pilot new approaches and look to develop new ‘smart therapies’ within Cambridge Children’s Hospital. Whether that’s honing our ability to better predict obesity risks and intervene in time through the identification of gene scores and pregnancy exposures or fostering an environment which promotes food to nourish, heal and protect.
Our researchers in the Perinatal Centre will work closely with clinicians at The Rosie maternity Hospital to address the toughest challenges in obstetric and neonatal care. Together, we will work to deliver innovative care and research for expectant families and infants, and set a new global standard for perinatal healthcare. Our focus will stretch across a wide-ranging remit. From preventing stillbirth and neonatal brain injury through the investigation of basic mechanisms through to strategies for neuroprotection and clinical innovation. We will also draw on whole genome sequencing to enable earlier diagnosis and personalised ante natal and NICU management of babies with serious genetic diseases. Ensuring families make the best start to life that they can.
Whole genome sequencing leads to better care for Millie-Mae
A Cambridge-based study has shown that the diagnosis and treatment of some of most critically ill babies can be improved by sequencing their whole genome.
The study, which is the latest of its kind in the world, sees advanced genomic sequencing to help doctors identify genetic conditions in neonatal and paediatric intensive care unit.
Mapping of the whole human genome and understanding the genetic basis of disease and recovery is central to our vision for Cambridge Children’s.
The study funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), the Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, the Rosetrees Trust and Isaac Newton Trust, discovered that one four babies had an underlying genetic condition.
Two-year-old Millie-Mae Daly faced an everyday risk of life-threatening seizures, which regularly left her in intensive care at Addenbrooke’s and West Suffolk Hospitals.
But by taking part in the Next Generation Children’s Project at Addenbrooke’s, in which 300 critically ill babies had their whole human genome sequenced, doctors were not only able to pinpoint the gene which caused Millie-Mae’s illness, but precisely tailor her medication to help manage it better.
Sharing our knowledge
By linking our knowledge of genomic sequencing with national health records, we will better understand how genetic health interacts with environmental factors — including education, socio-economics and behaviour — throughout a child’s whole life.
We will then use this research to create a unique library capable of predicting and preventing diseases, and developing adaptive, personalised medicine. All before sharing the life changing lessons we learn across the globe, helping children and young people aged 0-19, including those with cancer, from the east of England and far beyond.