A mobile clinical research facility developed in the UK as part of an alliance between the Universities of Birmingham and Warwick has started recruiting its first patients in Birmingham for three studies organised by the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research facility at the city’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Launched last June with funding from the Birmingham Science City partnership and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity, the Health Research Bus (HRB) operates in conjunction with regional healthcare providers including University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham Children’s NHS Trust.

The aim, Birmingham University said, is to revolutionise the way clinical research for major health issues such as diabetes, obesity and ageing is carried out in the community.

The first facility of its kind in the UK, the HRB will enable clinical researchers in Birmingham to access a large population across the ethnic and socio-economic spectrum, noted Professor Paul Stewart, dean of medicine at the University of Birmingham and director of the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility.

‘In doing so, it will widen participation in clinical trials across all sectors of society through a start-of-the-art facility linked back to our hospital base at the University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust,” Stewart added. “The bus will be a crucial way of rapidly conducting trials and ensuring their results are implemented quickly to improve the health of patients in Birmingham and beyond.”

The MRB incorporates procedure and treatment rooms, IT facilities, and a £100,000 DXA scanner for measuring body composition and bone density.

The first of the mobile research studies involves collecting DNA samples for use as a healthy comparison against a sample bank for patients with vasculitis or inflammation of the blood vessels.

The second will recruit healthy volunteers and measure their immune response to a benign virus, again in comparison with patient samples. The goal is to improve treatment of the autoimmune disease lupus. The third study is looking at levels of fatigue in patients with vasculitis. 

The Health Research Bus is part of the translational medicine strand of the Science City Research Alliance between the University of Birmingham and the University of Warwick. Other partners in the initiative are the Wellcome Trust, the Wolfson Foundation, the Medical Research Council and the NHS.