Centre for Inflammation Research

£1.7M awarded to help fight chronic liver disease

January 2018: A clinical study has been given a major financial boost to tackle a silent killer that could affect one in four Scots.

Dr Jonathan Fallowfield, a Senior Clinical Research Fellow based at the Medical Research Council Centre for Inflammation Research, is the clinical Principal Investigator of a ground-breaking project that could help develop new tests and treatments for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

The £1.7M collaborative grant from Innovate UK will provide welcome support for the project, led by Eagle Genomics (Cambridge, UK) and the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC; Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Glasgow, UK).

NAFLD, an accumulation of excess fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol, affects 25% of the world’s population. Strongly linked to type II diabetes and obesity, it is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in developed countries and there is no approved treatment. Chronic liver disease is now the third most common cause of premature death in the UK.  

The progressive form of NAFLD, known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), usually precedes liver fibrosis, liver cancer and premature death. Early recognition of the disease, monitoring progression, and effective treatment in patients is urgently required in order to reduce deaths from end-stage liver disease.

The grant will be used to develop SteatoSITE, a Data Commons* that allows sharing of genomic+ and clinical information from patients with NASH, making it more accessible for further research. The Data Commons, which will be the first in the world for NASH, will lead to a deeper understanding of which tests and treatments are most effective for individual patients.  

As more data is added, the Data Commons will evolve into a smarter, more comprehensive knowledge system that will assist important discoveries in chronic liver disease and increase the success of treatments for patients. 

The Data Commons project will be led by SMS-IC's industry partner, Eagle Genomics Ltd, an AI augmented knowledge discovery company. It will also involve partners at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, NHS Scotland and Glasgow, and Edinburgh's MRC Molecular Pathology Nodes. The collaboration pulls together world-class clinical expertise, data and access to research samples.

The project will involve genetic sequencing of 1000 liver biopsy samples from within the NHS Scotland’s biorepository network^ by Edinburgh Genomics, a global leader in DNA sequencing and genomics based at the University of Edinburgh. This new data will be combined with information from imaging, clinical and electronic health records.

Dr Fallowfield, who is also the SteatoSITE Clinical Lead, said:

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a silent epidemic with no approved treatment. Sharing information through this new data repository will be transformative for research efforts to better understand the disease. It will help to pinpoint patients at high risk of disease progression and will speed up the development of new therapies.

Diane Harbison, Chief Executive of Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre, said:

SMS-IC is uniquely placed to deliver transformational health projects such as this one. Scotland is a world leader in terms of the health data it has available, and this project is a great example of making most of this data in order to identify successful treatments and improve our ability to ensure each patient gets the right treatment. NAFLD is a massive health problem which affects large swathes of the population, not just in Scotland but globally, and there is a desperate need for potential treatments. Taking a stratified approach – ensuring treatments are targeted based on each individual patient's genes – means they are more likely to be successful.

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Vice Principal and Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences (MVLS) at the University of Glasgow said:

The SMS-IC is one of the University’s key collaborative partnerships to further Precision Medicine in Scotland, and so on behalf of myself and everyone at the College, I am delighted to support this latest investment and the ongoing success of the SMS-IC. The work of the SMS-IC, and indeed this latest collaborative project, exemplifies the University’s ethos of the ‘triple helix’ partnership between the NHS, University and industry.

Abel Ureta-Vidal, CEO of Eagle Genomics said:

This collaboration and funding is a great opportunity to further demonstrate the versatility of our platform to support translational sciences in the biomedical research field. Our platform is already deployed in other areas of Life Sciences research and development, such as animal health, personal care and cosmetics, food and crop sciences. This project will showcase its ability to accelerate innovation for pharmaceutical industry customers, to extend its use to other therapeutic areas of interest and play a key role in the digital reinvention of the Life Sciences research and development.

Technical terms

* A Data Commons co-locates data, storage and computing infrastructure, and is a commonly used tool for analysing and sharing data to create a resource for patients, charities, clinicians and the research community.

+ Genomics is an interdisciplinary field of science focusing on the structure, function, evolution and mapping of genomes. A genome is an organism's complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. This particular Data Commons project will sequence RNA, and will investigate expression of genes.

^ A biorepository collects, processes, stores, and distributes specimens of biological materials to support future scientific investigation.


About Eagle Genomics

Eagle Genomics' award winning smart data management platform, the e[automateddatascientist], allows scientists to bridge the gap between data and new insights in a rapid, systematic and traceable way. It is an AI augmented knowledge discovery platform putting state of the industry data science at the fingertips of biologists to radically reduce time and cost of research, thus enabling customers to achieve drastic productivity improvements and true data driven discovery.

Eagle Genomics website

About Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC) 
  • Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC) brings industry innovators, clinicians and world-class researchers together to work on precision medicine opportunities. SMS-IC provides a platform for accelerating real world adoption of precision medicine, by linking Scotland’s domain expertise, data assets and delivery infrastructure. Our aim is to be the location of choice for global research initiatives. 
  • SMS-IC is a unique consortium of partners, comprising NHS Scotland, four Scottish Universities (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen) and industrial partners across informatics and genomics (Aridhia Ltd and ThermoFisher Ltd). 
  • SMS-IC was formed by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in 2013, with an initial investment of £20M by SFC and industry. The Centre received additional funding of £4M in 2016 to develop the Precision Medicine Ecosystem for Scotland (PME). The University of Glasgow has provided significant management and infrastructure support to SMS-IC since its inception.
  • SMS-IC is currently working on six precision medicine programmes, collaborating with NHS Scotland, academia and industry across major disease areas, including ovarian and oesophageal cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and pancreatic cancer.
  • SMS-IC is based in the University of Glasgow’s Clinical Innovation Zone at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) campus in Glasgow.  

SMS-IC website

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