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Assembly Members clash with University over future of Wales Heart Research Institute

Concern has grown over the future of the Sir Geraint Evans Wales Heart Research Institute, after Assembly Member’s accuse Cardiff Medical School’s MEDIC Forward Programme of “rating chasing.”

The MEDIC Forward Programme, which Cardiff University claims will ensure that the university will have a “Medical School that is fit for the future”, was initiated in 2014, and has since reviewed all of the School’s research areas.

As a result, the programme will see heart research shift focus from looking at all areas of heart research, and heart disease, to looking specifically at preventing the cause leading cause of coronary heart disease.

Subsequently, the MEDIC Forward Programme will see funds re-allocates to specialise research in four areas; population medicine, infection and immunity, psychological medicine and clinical neurosciences, and cancer and genetics.

However, concerns have emerged over the University’s decision to ‘disinvest’ in heart research, with the programme redistributing heart research funding to look specifically into prevention for coronary heart disease.

Speaking of the plans put forward by the programme, Assembly Member for Cardiff North Julie Morgan said: “I am totally in support of researching the causes of heart disease in the community but believe it should be along with continuing the type of heart disease research that the WHRI was set up to carry out.

“I totally agree that preventative work is very, very important, and is absolutely essential, but heart disease is very varied, and there is a strong link between research and prevention and new treatments.

“The disinvestment in areas of research have clear benefit to the people of Wales indicates that the school of medicine has got its priorities seriously out of alignment with what is needed locally in Wales.”

These feelings were shared by Assembly Member for Cardiff Central, Jenny Rathbone, who said: “I fear that the death of the WHRI may be a casualty of the research excellence framework, the process by which all universities’ research output is judged at the moment.

“This has led to the industrial production of research papers, many of them read by no-one, and of no value whatsoever in terms of the impact on human knowledge or measurable outcomes.

“Cardiff is not alone in this rating chasing, but I fear that this medic-forward exercise may have had the opposite effect.”

Morgan also expressed concern for the future of the Sir Geraint Evans Building, the current home of the Wales Heart Research Institute, saying: “The Sir Geraint Evans Welsh Heart Research Institute building was specifically set up for research into heart conditions and that’s why the people of Wales gave money so generously towards it.

“Certainly Sir Geraint Evans’ family are very concerned about the position of the Institute and the funds donated specifically for heart research.”

The University have however been quick to stress that the building “will remain an active research environment.”

They added: “Our focus will be on patient-centred research that can be translated from ‘laboratory bench to patient bedside’ as rapidly as possible.

The MEDIC Forward Programme will see heart research shift focus from looking at all areas of heart research, and heart disease, to looking specifically at preventing atherosclerosis, leading cause of coronary heart disease

Cardiff Medical School currently boasts a 97 per cent approval rating, making it joint third for student satisfaction. The school has also risen to 18th in this year’s QS world rankings.

At current, the Institute, which was set up in response to the need to counter heart disease in Wales, is the leading heart research centre in the country, and in 2015 had received £5.2million in charitable donations from the British Heart Foundation.

At the time of the Institute’s conception in 1999, it was the only purposefully built heart research centre in the UK.

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