A pioneering new research centre will be officially launched at Exeter University this week with the aim of using predictive mathematical models to revolutionise the diagnosis and prognosis of a range of common chronic health conditions.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centre for Predictive Modelling in Healthcare will house a team of mathematicians, statisticians and clinicians who will work alongside a range of industrial partners, patients and others on improving diagnosing and treatment of conditions such as cardiac arrhythmias, diabetes, dementia and epilepsy.

In charge is John Terry, a professor of biomedical modelling in the College of Engineering, Mathematics, and Physical Sciences, who said the centre’s launch “will facilitate a step-change in our research into the mechanisms that lead to a range of common chronic clinical disorders”. 

“Further, translating these fundamental research ideas into practical tools for doctors, clinicians and surgeons will lead to more effective diagnosis and targeted management of chronic health conditions. This is an exciting opportunity with enormous potential.”

Two of the team were recently prestigious fellowships from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to help drive research in the field: Dr Jamie Walker received a five-year MRC Career Development Award, and Wessel Woldman was awarded an MRC Skills Development Fellowship worth £260,000.

Dr Walker says his fellowship will allow him to establish a new multidisciplinary research lab at the University, in which his team will combine mathematical modelling with experimental biology techniques to address key questions in the field of neuroendocrinology and stress physiology.

"In our research, we are using a variety of experimental and mathematical techniques to tackle key questions about the dynamic function of the hormonal stress-response system. We want to establish how and why the dynamics of this vital system breaks down in disease, and how these disrupted hormone dynamics affect our physiological and mental well-being. Ultimately, we hope to use this information to design novel therapeutic strategies to manipulate the behaviour of the system in a clinical setting."

Woldman’s research will help pioneer new methods for diagnosing chronic health conditions such as epilepsy using complex, state-of-the-art mathematical modelling. The research will offer new insights into what causes the debilitating condition, and both help improve accuracy of diagnosis and also aid in the creation of personalised treatment plans.

“The research will help us look beyond how we currently look at brain activity to determine if someone is prone to seizures, and into the mechanisms of the seizures itself,” he said. “In essence, we are looking at how we can provide a better understanding of the diagnosis, treatment and possible cures for epilepsy in the future.”

The Centre, based in £27-million Research, Innovation, Learning and Development (RILD) building at the University of Exeter Medical School, has been established through a £2 million grant from the EPSRC and matched funding from the University of Exeter. The Centre is one of five funded by the EPSRC, joining other in Cambridge Glasgow, London and Liverpool.