Find out more about HealthUEA, a new initiative from UEA at Norwich Research Park.

Health is a hugely important area of research at the University of East Anglia (UEA). So much so that, following in the footsteps of its two predecessors ClimateUEA and CreativeUEA, a new research initiative called HealthUEA has been launched to capitalise on this expertise.

Launching HealthUEA is testament to UEA's commitment to develop its presence in health research. HealthUEA’s mission is to help bring research partners in the health sector together, where such collaboration will often result in an outcome that is more than the sum of its parts. It is looking to reinforce the power of its academic strength by establishing partnerships across research disciplines to deliver outcomes that will benefit society.

Eastern Daily Press: HealthUEA’s mission is to help bring research partners in the health sector togetherHealthUEA’s mission is to help bring research partners in the health sector together (Image: Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Core aims

For the immediate future, HealthUEA is concentrating on putting UEA health research on the map and will focus on three core aims.

Firstly, to shine a spotlight on the fantastic health research that is already being undertaken at UEA and across Norwich Research Park.

Secondly, it will act as a conduit of communication and collaboration between its four faculties – Arts & Humanities, Science, Social Sciences and Medicine & Health Science – as well as Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the world-leading research institutes at Norwich Research Park: the Earlham Institute, Quadram Institute, John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory. This will bring people together to engage in more interdisciplinary research that will have a much greater positive impact on society – regionally, nationally and internationally.

Thirdly, it will provide greater and easier access to potential external partners, inviting academic and business partners, volunteers and members of the public to collaborate in future research activities.

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Collaboration across faculties and institutions on the Park is important because it helps to provide a more holistic view on specific areas of research. For instance, in order to take results achieved in a lab and find out how that research can be applied to humans, it is necessary to engage with researchers from other disciplines to translate the potential of that research into meaningful societal impacts.

Eastern Daily Press: Ian Clark, professor of Musculoskeletal Biology at UEA, is leading HealthUEAIan Clark, professor of Musculoskeletal Biology at UEA, is leading HealthUEA (Image: UEA / Ian Clark)

Ian Clark, professor of Musculoskeletal Biology at UEA, is leading HealthUEA. He has been at UEA since 1996 focusing primarily on osteoarthritis. He understands how things function across the university and the projects he has worked on have helped him to forge valuable connections with the diverse spectrum of researchers that work in the other university faculties and institutes across the Park.

Ian said: “We are in a very fortunate position of having such esteemed research partners at Norwich Research Park, who naturally tend to work in a collaborative way. The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Quadram Institute, Earlham Institute, John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory are all on the university’s doorstep, which is an extremely unusual and immensely beneficial situation to be in.

"That doesn’t necessarily mean that researchers across the whole Park are aware of everything that each other is doing. HealthUEA will do its best to help bring research partners together, where this can bring additional benefits on top of the individual outcomes."

Powerful partnerships

It is hoped that HealthUEA will enable greater engagement with the government over things like health policy. It will also help research teams become more competitive when looking to secure funding by facilitating the creation of interdisciplinary projects. The existence of the partner organisations on the same campus at Norwich Research Park puts HealthUEA in a very strong position to deliver this.

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HealthUEA is applying the learnings the university gained from its experiences in establishing and running ClimateUEA and CreativeUEA. For example, ClimateUEA secured funding early on to run an interdisciplinary research PhD programme, and CreativeUEA has excelled in building relationships locally. HealthUEA aspires to achieve similar success in both areas.

One vital aspect involves creating external visibility so that people hear about HealthUEA, understand what it is trying to do and want to get involved in it.

Eastern Daily Press: HealthUEA could help lead to significant breakthroughs to treat conditions such as osteoarthritisHealthUEA could help lead to significant breakthroughs to treat conditions such as osteoarthritis (Image: Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Understanding osteoarthritis 

A good example of the type of collaborative approach to research that HealthUEA is looking to enable can be found in Prof Clark’s field of osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints. There are around 8.5 million sufferers of moderate to severe osteoarthritis in the UK and 6 million of those are in constant pain. The major risk factors for the disease are increasing age and increasing obesity.

An ageing population means that both of those things are increasing. However, there is no medicine that can be given to patients that either prevents osteoarthritis in the first place or slows its progression, so research into this disease is crucial and potentially life-changing.

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There has been a significant increase in interest in the role that nutrition can play in addressing osteoarthritis – and UEA is at the forefront of research in this area. However, only through collaboration can we hope to address such a complex disease.

Research into plant biology and health at the John Innes Centre and into the gut microbiome at the Quadram Institute could unlock discoveries that will ultimately help people suffering from this condition. Having the research institutes with complementary skills as neighbours is enormously helpful and can lead to significant breakthroughs.

Local impact  – and beyond

HealthUEA aims to collaborate with the wider community of Norfolk. The UEA already has institutions like the Citizens Academy where part of their remit is engaging the local population in research. Getting the community involved is vitally important in providing a clear understanding of what people want to know and what would benefit them most. It allows the public to help set the research agenda.

But HealthUEA has ambitions that go beyond the county’s borders. It’s important to recognise that the research being undertaken here often influences policy on a global scale – something local people can be rightly proud of – and it’s something that HealthUEA is keen to continue.

Universities are sometimes perceived to operate in isolation, separate from real life. HealthUEA aims to break down those barriers and misconceptions and enable things to happen for the benefit of society.

Eastern Daily Press: Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation PartnershipRoz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership (Image: Submitted)

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership, the science park management company at Norwich Research Park, said: “The launch of HealthUEA is very welcome as it highlights the first class expertise on the campus, encourages the research community to work collaboratively on projects that affect human health and will attract in new companies to benefit from these activities.”

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