Royal Free Hospital: Our institute will bring pioneering new treatments to local patients

Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust

Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust - Credit: UCL /RFH

Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, explains why the hospital believes its plans to construct a pioneering new research institute will bring huge benefits to local patients.

The Pears Building is the first major construction project at the Royal Free Hospital since we moved to Hampstead in the 1970s and will bring many benefits to patients and residents living in the area. The £42million scheme is a partnership between the hospital, the Royal Free Charity and University College London, one of the world’s leading universities.

The building will be home to the new UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation, greatly expanding the first phase of the institute, which was opened by the Duke of York last year within the main hospital. The institute brings together in one place researchers, doctors and patients, enabling the development of new treatments for immune-related conditions more quickly and easily than in the past. It also means patients at the Royal Free London will be first in line for the latest therapies.

Our scientists have already started clinical trials to investigate a new treatment for leukaemia, using the body’s own immune system to attack cancerous cells. This has the benefit of avoiding the unpleasant side effects that occur when patients are treated with conventional chemotherapy. If successful, this treatment will represent a huge breakthrough for patients with this type of blood cancer.

No wait for a donor

We are also developing techniques which will allow new organs to be created from stem cells, so that patients in need of a new liver or kidney, for example, will not have to wait for a donated organ to become available. There are currently more than 7,000 people on the UK organ donor waiting list and three people in the UK die every day while on the list, so our work could have a huge impact on so many people’s lives.

Those who do receive a donated organ need to take a host of drugs in order to stop the immune system attacking it. Researchers at the institute are developing new treatments that will put an end to that. The goal is to teach the immune system to accept the new organ so that immunosuppressant drugs, which can have harmful side-effects, won’t be needed. Our scientists, who work closely with doctors and patients, are uniquely placed to develop this technology.

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A cure for diabetes?

Other researchers at the institute are studying the causes of type 1 diabetes. There are 29,000 children and 370,000 adults in Britain with this condition and, currently, they need to have insulin injections every time they have a meal. However, the work of our scientists makes it more likely we will develop a treatment that could put an end to the need for constant injections.

These are just a few examples of the treatments being developed at the institute that will make a huge difference to thousands, if not millions, of patients.

Our aim is to construct a building that everyone in Hampstead will be proud of, not just because of the incredible research it will host and the innovative treatments it will provide to our patients but also because of the way it looks - our architects previously worked on the widely admired velodrome in the Olympic Park.

We do of course understand that residents living close to Pond Street may have concerns about what this new building might mean for them. With a major construction project such as this there will inevitably be some inconvenience. We will do our best to ensure there is as little disruption as possible and we would ask for the tolerance and patience of local residents during the building works.

Our goal at the Royal Free London is to provide the best possible care to our local population while developing new treatments that will benefit patients worldwide. We have a long history of innovation and the Pears Building will ensure that we continue to pioneer new treatments. We sincerely hope all our local residents share this vision with us.