Press release

Wellcome Trust and MRC invest £24 million in Cambridge obesity institute

The Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council (MRC) are to invest £24 million into obesity research led by the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science.

The Institute of Metabolic Science (IMS), based on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, will investigate the causes and health consequences of obesity and develop new approaches to prevent and treat metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

The IMS is a joint venture between the MRC, the Wellcome Trust, the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Co-directed by Professors Stephen O'Rahilly and Nick Wareham, it provides a unique environment linking basic and applied science in metabolic diseases.

The IMS houses not only state-of-the-art facilities for laboratory science and clinical and population research, but also purpose-built clinics providing outpatient care for children and adults with metabolic and endocrine disorders.

This close link to patients ensures that advances in basic science can be applied rapidly to improve patient care and disease prevention. The IMS is also close to the largest concentration of biotechnology companies in Europe, creating excellent opportunities for industrial collaboration.

Funding from the MRC will establish a new MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit at the IMS, under the direction of Professor O'Rahilly, as well as new programmes of research at the existing MRC Epidemiology Unit and MRC Human Nutrition Research. The Wellcome Trust investment will create an enhanced Clinical Research Facility dedicated to metabolic studies, as well as providing funding for major core laboratory equipment and studies in animal models.

Stephen O'Rahilly, Co-Director of the Wellcome Trust-MRC IMS and Director of the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit, University of Cambridge, said: "This joint initiative from the MRC and Wellcome Trust will provide exciting new opportunities to better understand the fundamental causes of disease such as obesity and diabetes and translate that knowledge into improved therapies."

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: "Obesity is one of the biggest challenges facing the future health of the developed world and understanding the causes and consequences of this condition is a major research priority. The MRC is very happy to be partnering with the Wellcome Trust and University of Cambridge in an ambitious joint venture that will unite experts in basic science, population science and experimental medicine to create a world-leading centre for metabolic research."

Dr Ted Bianco, Acting Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "With obesity rates soaring across the globe, the need to understand the biological, behavioural and environmental factors that influence metabolic diseases has never been greater. This additional investment from us and the MRC reflects the quality of research that is being undertaken at Cambridge and lays the foundations for taking basic scientific discoveries right through to clinical advances."

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: "Obesity has become an urgent public health issue as research continues to reveal its detrimental effects. With obesity doubling between 1980 and 2008 – a span of less than 30 years – investing in obesity research has never been more critical, and the University is delighted with the support of the MRC and the Wellcome Trust."

The £24m joint investment will be broken down as follows:

  • £10.8m from the MRC to establish a new university unit: the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit, University of Cambridge (Directed by Professor Stephen O'Rahilly and located at the Wellcome Trust-MRC IMS)
  • £10.1m from the Wellcome Trust for basic science infrastructure and new clinical research facilities at the IMS, and to support joint working with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
  • £2.5m from the MRC for research into biomarkers for diabetes at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge (Directed by Professor Nick Wareham and located at the Wellcome Trust-MRC IMS).
  • £1m from the MRC for a collaborative programme to investigate human fat metabolism, led by MRC Human Nutrition Research (Directed by Professor Ann Prentice and based at the Elsie Widdowson Laboratory in Cambridge).

About the Institute of Metabolic Science (IMS)

The Institute of Metabolic Science (IMS) was established by the University of Cambridge in 2008, in partnership with the MRC and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The IMS focuses on understanding the causes and adverse consequences of obesity, and approaches to prevent and treat metabolic disease. In recognition of the current significant investments and of the substantial support for metabolic disease research provided by the Wellcome Trust and MRC in Cambridge over more than 20 years, the IMS is to be renamed the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science.

The Wellcome Trust has invested over £60m in the past decade on basic and translational research in obesity and related metabolic diseases at the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories and the Clinical School. The new investment supports a number of individuals who are in receipt of prestigious personal funding from the Trust and will continue to support the PhD Programme hosted at this site, alongside other members of the IMS.

About the Medical Research Council

Over the past century, the Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers' money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel Prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.

The MRC Centenary Timeline chronicles 100 years of life-changing discoveries and shows how our research has had a lasting influence on healthcare and wellbeing in the UK and globally, right up to the present day.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.