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Exeter part of £10 million investment for new maths centres to tackle life-threatening diseases

The University of Exeter will pioneer new methods for managing and treating chronic health conditions at a ground-breaking new maths-based research centre, it has been announced.

The new centre, led by Professor John Terry from the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, aims to revolutionise the diagnosis and prognosis of a range of common chronic health conditions.

The Centre is one of five across the UK launched by Life Sciences Minister George Freeman today (16 December) and which will receive part of a £10 million total investment by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The centres will enable scientists to work closely with healthcare planners, clinicians, policy makers and industry partners to deliver high quality, multidisciplinary research that will help overcome some of the big challenges facing the NHS.

At Exeter, the EPSRC Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare will bring together a world-leading team of mathematicians, statisticians and clinicians to focus on the development of new methods for managing and treating health conditions such as cardiac arrhythmias, diabetes and epilepsy, using mathematical models to make predictions based upon routinely acquired patient data.

Professor Terry, part of Exeter’s Mathematics department said: “Mathematics and statistics have a pivotal role to play in developing 21st century healthcare provision for many of the most debilitating and chronic medical conditions affecting people of every age.

“We know that, as our population ages, the number of people living with a chronic disorder is forecast to rise dramatically, which not only could increase an already unsustainable financial burden of healthcare costs on society, but more crucially potentially see a substantial reduction in quality of life for so many of us.

“Early and accurate diagnoses, and optimal use of available medications, are critical, to averting these issues both now, and in the future. Exeter’s innovative Centre will play a crucial role in making these a reality.”

Researchers at the EPSRC Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare will develop mathematical and statistical tools that will help inform clinical decision making on a patient-by-patient basis - which could lead to a revolution in diagnosis of epilepsy.

This will be achieved by enabling diagnosis from markers that are present even in the absence of seizures, reducing time spent in clinic and increasing accuracy of diagnosis.

Professor Terry added: “There are a host of incredible developments that we hope to achieve through the exciting research at the Centre. As well as increasing accuracy and reducing time spent in clinic, we believe it may even make diagnosis in the GP clinic a reality.”

Announcing the new Centres, George Freeman, Minister for Life Sciences said: “Maths and statistics aren’t the first sciences that come to mind when we talk about healthcare innovation. But they have a very important part to play in developing 21st century solutions to the challenges facing clinicians every day in the NHS. That’s why we are investing £10 million in five new Mathematical Sciences in Healthcare Research Centres up and down the country, to help doctors gain a better understanding of diseases, make faster diagnoses and plan better, more targeted treatment for patients.”

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said: “Maths research provides the foundation for so much of science and engineering, and new technologies, but this often goes unrecognised by those who benefit from results. These five new Mathematical Sciences in Healthcare Centres will lead the way in developing mathematical and statistical modelling for predicting the progression of diseases both in individuals and populations, as well as planning treatment strategies. The Centres will help us deal with the clinical and economic challenges facing the UK’s healthcare system as the population ages.”

The Centre at the University of Exeter is actively encouraging members of the public to get involved and help shape the direction of research undertaken. To express an interest please email engaged-research@exeter.ac.uk.

Date: 16 December 2015

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