'So much hope': Pears Building welcomes UCL scientists as institute opens

Reza Motallebzadeh with patient Pradip Patel

Surgeon and researcher Reza Motallebzadeh with patient Pradip Patel helped open the UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation at The Pears Building. - Credit: Royal Free Charity

Scientists from the UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation (IIT) have moved into The Pears Building, with up to 200 expected in total. 

The £60m institute is a collaboration between the Royal Free Charity, UCL and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust (RFL), on the grounds of the Belsize Park hospital. 

The partnership of scientists investigating the human immune system, working alongside doctors, nurses and patients, hopes to develop new treatments more quickly for global health problems, including Covid-19, type 1 diabetes and cancer. 

Institute director Professor Hans Stauss said the new facility is “dedicated to the patient-focused research of the human immune system”. 

He said: “The facilities in the new building will help us develop treatments to ‘turn up’ the immune system to respond to a threat from, say, a coronavirus, or to recognise cancer cells as a danger.  

“We also explore ‘turning down’ the immune system in order to stop the rejection of transplanted organs and to treat autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. 

“The final cluster of our research is around different inherited conditions, such as primary immunodeficiencies, in which faulty genes affect how the body’s immune system works.” 

scientist Martina Milighett

Martina Milighetti is a PhD student working on understanding how T cells recognise their targets during an immune response. - Credit: Royal Free Charity

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Pradip Patel, who lives in Southgate, hopes research at the IIT could transform outcomes for patients like him in the future. 

In 2017, Pradip had a kidney transplant at the Royal Free Hospital but, days later, his immune system saw the new kidney as a ‘foreign object’ and started attacking it. 

He had two further operations and was given powerful drugs to suppress his immune system and dialysis to ensure waste products would continue to be removed from his bloodstream until the new kidney started working properly.  

Pradip went on to raise £16,000 through a charity golf event which was donated to the institute. 

Jon Spiers, chief executive of the Royal Free Charity, said: “The huge generosity of our donors, particularly the Pears Foundation, is what has made this unique collaboration possible and we are deeply grateful to them for helping us to bring so much hope to patients here and across the world.” 

Royal Free London group chief executive Caroline Clarke said: “Our expansion of the institute will give many more of our patients the opportunity to take part in ground-breaking research.” 

Last month, Debbie Cleeve-Evans, 54, was the first patient to stay in new accommodation on site.