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Researchers win top designation

Immunologists in London are on par with those at Harvard and the Mayo Clinic

May 24, 2003
Elaine Smith, Free Press Reporter

London's immunology researchers are now on par with those at Harvard and the Mayo Clinic.

A team of scientists from the Robarts Research Institute, the Lawson Health Research Institute and the University of Western Ontario landed a prestigious international research designation aimed at accelerating the discovery of treatments for immune system disorders.

"We are among what I would call a unique crowd," said Dr. Joaquin Madrenas, a Robarts physician and scientist and UWO professor who spearheaded the drive to become Canada's only FOCIS Centre for Clinical Immunology and Immunotherapeutics.

"This is a very important club, a very prestigious club whose members have the keenest minds in the world in immunology," added Dr. David Hill, scientific director of LHRI. "This is to be celebrated. We're a member of this club on merit."

The researchers involved in the collaborative effort represent four medical departments and eight clinical divisions at the three institutions.

"It's a virtual centre," said Madrenas. "That's the beauty of it. The institutions represented will continue to support the researchers, but we'll foster communication and interaction and drop the usual barriers."

The researchers will concentrate on immune-mediated diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

"One in every four hospital admissions is related to an immune disorder, so both from a clinical and a financial point of view the implications are significant," said Madrenas.

The centre's projects will have a research component, a care component (for example, a patient registry for clinical trials) and an education component, such as a Web presence, which will allow for community involvement.

In the coming months, the centre network will have funding available for such items as the implementation of clinical trials and for assistance by young researchers.

The FOCIS centres selected by the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies are confined to 22 in the U.S. -- places such as Stanford and Yale -- and eight more worldwide, including England, Italy and Venezuela.

"Here in London, we're finding treatments, cures and ways to affect people throughout the world," Mayor Anne Marie De Cicco told an audience at Robarts where the announcement was made. "We know how to come together in a strategic way."

Dianne Cunningham, Ontario's minister of training, colleges and universities, added congratulations on behalf of the province.

"This is a scientific first for London, for Ontario and for Canada," she said.

"We don't brag enough. I'm looking forward to the day we're announcing a new treatment for an immune-related disorder as a result of this FOCIS designation."

Copyright © 2003 The London Free Press