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Giving hope to sufferers

Newcastle Journal - Apr. 05, 2007

A health centre that will be at the forefront of the race to develop drugs for chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and MS opened officially in the North yesterday[WED]. The Wilson Horne Immunotherapy Centre at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary puts the region at the forefront of early phase trials of treatments using new drugs that target the human immune system.

Researchers hope to begin work next year on the world's first project on people with rheumatoid arthritis using a technique to manipulate white blood cells and replant them in the body to stop the disease.

The centre was opened by Wilson Horne, a former Newcastle University professor who donated pounds 1m from the sale of his medical company, Novocastra Laboratories, to develop the unit. Centre director John Isaacs, a professor of clinical rheumatology at the university, said: "This dedicated facility enables patients for whom standard treatments are not working to be treated with new drugs in a safe clinical environment.

"At the same time it allows us to intensively investigate the patients so that we can obtain as much information as possible about how the drugs work."

The centre has a dedicated team of nursing staff, a lab technician and administrative support. Facilities include a treatment area with state-of-the-art ultrasound imaging equipment, a procedures room to enable biopsy of diseased tissues and a laboratory to enable samples to be processed rapidly.

Prof Horne said: "It is an area I was interested in, so it is good the money has been applied to clinical treatment."

Stuart Armstrong, 57, from Carlisle, and formerly Hexham, has been taking part in a trial of a drug to treat his severe rheumatoid arthritis at the centre for 12 months.

He ran his own business as a roofer for 26 years, but his condition became so severe that he had to give up the business.

He said: "Before I took part in this trial I was housebound. I'm a different person now. I hope I might eventually be able to go back to work part-time."

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