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Health research unit unveils state-of-the-art equipment

16 February 2011

A £1 million investment in state-of-the-art equipment has completed the creation of a major health research laboratory, part of the new University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), in Inverness.

The specialist unit is looking at the impact of lipids, commonly known as fats, on the progression of diseases, including diabetes, heart disorders and stroke, and is the first of its kind in Scotland.

Part of the UHI Department of Diabetes and Cardiovascular Science, it is financed by a partnership involving Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the European Regional Development Fund, and the Scottish Funding Council.

A range of sophisticated mass spectrometers have recently been installed in the Lipidomics Research Facility at the Centre for Health Science, Inverness. This instrumentation will enable the research team to accurately analyse a wide variety of fats in samples.

Professor Phillip Whitfield, head of lipidomic research, and his team showed off the laboratory to UHI and HIE visitors on Tuesday afternoon, 15 February. They were UHI principal and vice-chancellor James Fraser; the UHI vice-principal for research and enterprise, Dr Jeff Howarth; Morven Cameron, head of research at HIE, and Dr Steven Dodsworth, HIE head of life sciences.

Professor Whitfield said: "The mass spectrometers represent a significant and exciting research resource for UHI. They are essential to our work and will allow us to establish key experimental approaches to investigate the processes that lead to development of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We are already working closely with a number of academic research groups and we will continue to form collaborative partnerships with groups in universities, research centres and industry in Scotland, Europe and across the world."

Lipidomics is an emerging discipline looking at ways to measure molecules in many different samples such as blood and tissues.

"We hope that lipidomics will be able to detect changes in the levels of certain types of fats, which may help to improve our understanding of some diseases. Ultimately, we see the findings from our research leading to improved diagnosis and treatment of patients," Professor Whitfield commented.

The Life Sciences sector is a key priority for HIE and the region has seen significant growth over the past five years.

HIE's head of research, Morven Cameron, said: "The growth of this sector requires an underpinning scientific capacity and UHI has been working hard to deliver this. Inverness, and the whole region, is set to benefit from this development, putting the Highlands and Islands firmly on the Scottish map in terms of our pioneering scientific research.

"By working together, the university and private and public sectors have been able to create the right conditions to attract leading academics, including the chair in diabetes, Professor Ian Megson, and Professor Whitfield to the region. This investment in major equipment will be vital if our research ambitions in lipidomics are to be realised."

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