The Whole Life
Cambridge Children’s Hospital will feature an embedded University of Cambridge research institute, dedicated to improving the health of children and young people. Our over-arching strategy, representing new thinking in the field of paediatrics, will be research on the origins of mental and physical health conditions to identify patients at risk. This will enable earlier interventions to improve the life course trajectories.
Our approach will account for the complexity of the environment, including psychosocial and economic circumstances. To this end, our research values diversity, equity and inclusion in the setting of the UK’s National Health Service.
The Research Institute will be on the ground floor of the hospital, a visible laboratory, housing 20 different research groups and 250 investigators. There will be a focus on addressing the top causes of death or disability in children and young people in the UK, with individual centres on perinatal care, genomic medicine, mental health and neurodevelopment, infection and inflammation, childhood cancer and diabetes and obesity. These will be led by experts in these fields from the University working hand in hand with NHS consultants.
Paediatrics is entering an exciting phase where we can have an even greater impact on the overall healthcare system. The care and research that will be delivered at Cambridge Children’s Hospital aims to set a course for the future.
Professor David Rowitch MD ScD FMedSci FRS
Head of Paediatrics, University of Cambridge
Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental Centre
The Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research will be one of two flagship centres within the Cambridge Children’s Research Institute, with dry and wet laboratory space. Its work will feed into many clinical and research areas at Cambridge Children’s and it will particularly interface with the Health Innovation Centre and Device and Apps Group. Its work will include psychiatry, psychology and autism research, with areas of inquiry including early identification of poor mental health in children and young people with long-term disease or conditions; optimising outcomes for patients with complex long-term conditions; and tackling the co-development of poor physical and mental health in certain vulnerable groups.
Genomic Medicine Centre
The Centre for Genomic Medicine will be one of two flagship centres within the Cambridge Children’s Research Institute, with dry and wet laboratory space. The Centre will develop fundamental genetic science and clinically applicable methods, particularly whole genome sequencing and gene and cell therapies, as a gateway to the effective prevention and treatment of a range of conditions. It will especially focus on serious and rare genetic brain and mitochondrial disorders and using genome sequencing for early detection of genetic disease to improve clinical management, including gene therapies.
Rapid Whole Genome Sequencing for Children
Making a rapid, highly accurate diagnosis in an acutely unwell patient has immediate benefits to the patient, their family and to the healthcare system. Almost 100,000 acutely unwell babies or children are admitted every year to an NHS intensive care unit. A recent study from the University of Cambridge and NIHR’s Next Generation Children (NGC) Project including >500 patients and families from across the East of England has shown we can make the correct diagnosis in 1 in 3 children in paediatric intensive care and 1 in 2 in neurology clinic using whole genome sequencing. Results delivered within a 2-week period resulted in improved management, including eliminating the ‘diagnostic odyssey’ of the baby or child in almost all cases.
The scope of this project has now been extended to pediatric cancer and cerebral palsy, and we are about to launch on an even more rapid turnaround time (24 hrs) pilot. This will be delivered via an innovation hub or “sandbox” concept bringing together Cambridge University Hospitals, University of Cambridge, the NHS East Genomic Laboratory Hub and Illumina.
Childhood Cancer Centre
The Centre for Childhood Cancer Research will focus on questions arising about the origins of childhood cancers. Cancer and blood disorders – e.g., leukaemia, brain cancer and sickle cell disease – are still a leading cause of death and disability in children and young people. Areas of inquiry include early detection with biomarkers taken from a blood test; both mental and physical ‘precision rehabilitation’ for children recovering from brain cancer surgery; and basic science investigation into the origins of devastating paediatric cancers of the body and brain.
Childhood Diabetes and Obesity Centre
Obesity and diabetes are leading causes of morbidity for children in the UK and closely linked to socioeconomic background and in some cases, genetic vulnerability. Cambridge’s research focuses on early detection and even prevention of Type-1 diabetes. The team has a strong record of success, for example, inventing the “artificial pancreas” and setting a global standard of care, delivering the right dose of insulin around the clock, using technology that can be run from a smart phone.
Infection and Inflammation Centre
The Centre for Infection and Inflammation will examine questions such as how serious infections (such as COVID-19) on children who are acutely unwell and also the long-term effects. Using ‘omic’ technologies we will gain insights on the immune system in infection and inflammatory bowel disease and also how inflammation affects brain and mental health.
Perinatal Research Centre
The Centre for Perinatal Research will focus on research such as the Pregnancy Outcomes Predictions Study 2 (POPS2) and prevention of stillbirth, linking across Cambridge Children’s and the Rosie (maternity) hospitals. It will identify new ways to prevent death and disability from preterm birth, stillbirth and devastating neonatal brain injuries.
Cambridge Children’s Health Innovation Hub
The Cambridge Children’s Health Innovation Hub brings together applied health research and data science in three interlinked areas. “Neuromics”, led by the newly endowed Gnodde Goldman Sachs Professorship of Neuro-informatics (Department of Psychiatry), will link clinical neuroimaging, cognitive and behavioural data for deep phenotyping and better prediction of health risk and stratified therapies. The NIHR Children and Young People BioResource national platform will recruit cohorts of children and young people who have consented for data related research. This will include genotype and clinical health record linkages; further research to investigate educational and other social outcomes integrating environmental exposures to dissect fundamental origins of disease; and the impact of nature versus nurture. Linking with both these and across Cambridge Children’s, the Applied Health Group will focus on developing the evidence base for novel interventions stratified according to physical and/or mental health risks, providing data to more rapidly support integration into routine clinical practice in the UK. This latter will be the basis of an international partnership to demonstrate the benefits of novel interventions in the context of universal healthcare, a system that has application in the United States and around the world.