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Professor Hugh McKenna, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation with Health Minister, Edwin Poots MLAat the opening of the The Wellcome Trust-Wolfson Foundation Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility (NICRF) in Belfast

A new £4M clinical research hub opening in Belfast today will enable more patients than ever before to take part in clinical trials in Northern Ireland.

Known as The Wellcome Trust-Wolfson Foundation Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility (NICRF), it will concentrate on four main research themes; cancer, nutrition and metabolism, vision science and respiratory research.

The facility will also benefit those with rare conditions, who, until now, have had to travel to England to participate in trials.

It is a joint venture between the University of Ulster, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Queen’s University Belfast, and Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D), a division of the Public Health Agency (PHA).

Based in Belfast City Hospital, the NICRF has the infrastructure to support clinical trials from conception to completion. With dedicated staff, the NICRF now allows researchers to access a specialised area for clinical research, including equipment not available in the NHS.

It contains ten clinical rooms, a blood processing facility and a diet kitchen for nutrition studies.Researchers hope that hundreds of patients will be offered the chance to take part in clinical trials each year, leading to a major increase in numbers previously enrolled in research studies in Northern Ireland.

Professor Hugh McKenna, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation, at the University of Ulster, said: “This facility is very much a collaborative venture and we look forward to working with our partners to produce research results that have global impact on the effectiveness of patient care. The potential for this facility to be a springboard for better understanding disease processes, for testing new treatments, and for generating new ideas for therapy is enormous.”

Health Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, added: “This new state-of-the-art facility is an important element of Northern Ireland’s health research infrastructure and will enhance our ability to produce valuable, useable results.”

A number of programmes are already underway. These include studies on asthma, cystic fibrosis and bronchietasis. Others are focusing on cardiovascular conditions including stroke and rare genetic conditions including Morquio syndrome.

Professor Danny McAuley from QUB, who is acting director of NICRF, said: “Researchers throughout Northern Ireland are making some of the most important scientific discoveries in the world today. Until the NICRF there was no dedicated area with such an array of specialist equipment to support clinical research in Northern Ireland. Now, we will be able to translate laboratory discoveries into advances in patient care.