Birmingham is at the centre of a new £4million clinical trials network which will improve stem cell therapy for people across the UK, it has been announced this British Science Week.

IMPACT is a clinical trials platform jointly funded by Anthony Nolan, Leuka, and NHS Blood and Transplant. It is based at the University of Birmingham and will carry out a series of trials over the next three years to improve the care and treatment of patients with blood cancer and blood disorders receiving a stem cell transplant.

Approximately 4,400 stem cell transplants take place in the UK every year, and can provide a cure for patients with blood cancer. However, in recent years there have been few clinical trials designed to improve the success of transplants.

IMPACT represents a significant investment in improving patient care, and aims to speed up the time it takes for patients to benefit from research.

The trials will be carried out in twenty-two hospitals, ten of which – including Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham – have received funding for a research nurse who will provide dedicated support for the patients enrolled on trials.

Sister Jane Nunnick, a haematology nurse, has been appointed as the IMPACT research nurse at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. With over 25 years’ nursing experience, Jane is excited to help patients receive the most pioneering treatments.

Jane said: “In the twenty-five years I’ve been a nurse I’ve seen transplant medicine move on dramatically – but there are still patients who can’t have a transplant, or who relapse afterwards. IMPACT will open the door to even more patients, giving them options, and giving them a better chance that their disease isn’t going to come back.

“I’m happy to see Birmingham at the centre of these trials; we’ve got fantastic regional hospitals that we work closely with. The community we serve is far and wide – we’ve transplanted patients from Norfolk to Newcastle, Liverpool and into Wales – so we know we’re helping patients in Birmingham and beyond.”

One of Jane’s patients, Deborah Harkins from Drayton, near Belbroughton in North Worcestershire, had a stem cell transplant in June 2016 for leukaemia and is currently participating in a clinical trial for patients at high risk of relapse.

Deborah said: “Jane made sure that I was looked after in the trial that I am on, and I’m so pleased to hear that she’s been appointed to this post.

“I believe we owe it to donors, those who are giving people a second chance of life, to do more research into what makes a stem cell transplant successful. Patients also deserve to receive the best possible care, and for that to happen we need clinical trials to take research from the lab to a place where it can really benefit patients.

“I’ve never met a patient who wouldn’t consider being part of a clinical trial – the issue is that for a long time, there haven’t been enough trials for patients to be part of. That’s why IMPACT is so important. It will increase the number of patients on trials, which ultimately means more patients’ lives saved.”

She added, “I’m really pleased to see Birmingham become the hub for IMPACT. The Transplant Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is involved in world class clinical research and carries out transplants on an incredibly diverse population which means that we can find out about the different treatments that work for different groups of people.”

IMPACT Medical Director, Professor David Marks, says: “New, and improved, treatments for stem cell transplant patients can only become possible if they are evaluated and approved as part of a clinical trial. The UK has been unable to advance treatments at the same rate of other developed countries but, by making it easier to set up trials and recruit participants, IMPACT will ensure that medical advances reach patients more quickly and help fill the gaps in our current understanding.

“I’m delighted to have the support of the University of Birmingham to provide the hub for the IMPACT clinical trials platform, and we look forward to working with Jane and the other research nurses to make sure patients in Birmingham and beyond benefit from this partnership.”