Yale Forges Transatlantic Research Alliance with University College London

In a packed room at Woodbridge Hall, the leaders of Yale and University College London (UCL) and their affiliated hospitals signed an agreement on Oct. 8 that creates what they hope will be a prolific transatlantic partnership in biomedical research and clinical care.

Although not a signatory to the agreement, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is teaching a “Faith and Globalization” seminar at Yale for the second year, watched as pens were raised in the air and copies of the agreement were passed back and forth and quipped, “This is what we used to do with treaties.”

He told the UCL leaders, “If your relationship with Yale is as fruitful as mine, you have made a very wise choice.”

Yale and UCL are renowned centers of biomedical research, in the top echelons of global educational institutions. In fact, on the morning of the signing, The Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings for 2009 were released, listing Yale in third place and UCL in fourth.

After the pens were laid back down on the table, President Richard C. Levin spoke of the value of the collaboration. “In terms of the scientific background and the research that’s available, we’ve just doubled the size of the pool, and that’s bound to lead to greater insight in clinical care,” he said, adding, “From a clinical point of view, combining two large hospitals and their databases provides a test bed for much greater analysis of the efficacy of various clinical treatments and procedures.”

In addition to Levin, those signing the agreement were Malcolm Grant, president and provost of UCL; Marna P. Borgstrom, president and chief executive officer of Yale-New Haven Hospital; and David Fish, professor of epilepsy and clinical neurophysiology at UCL and managing director of UCL Partners.

The Yale-UCL collaboration is the brainchild of Yale’s Michael Simons and UCL’s John Martin, two distinguished heart researchers and physicians. The collaboration will immediately create new joint clinical programs to treat cardiomyopathy, congenital heart disease, sudden cardiac death and chronic total occlusion of the coronary arteries. In addition to exchanging expert physicians to treat individual cases at each site, the members of the collaboration will make use of telemedicine technology to share clinical information and expertise among themselves, and eventually with other institutions around the world.

Acknowledging the groundwork laid by Simons and Martin, Grant predicted that the collaboration would “produce results that are of value to humankind, and that is the sole goal that justifies the universities doing this.”

This new alliance is unusual in that both Yale and UCL are in partnership with extensive hospital complexes. The system of comprehensive clinical care delivered by UCL’s National Health Service-affiliated hospitals will enable joint longitudinal studies and clinical trials of new medicines that could greatly benefit patients. By analyzing healthcare delivery in the diverse settings overseen by each institution, researchers can work to develop best management practices for hospitals. UCL scientists will also benefit from new links to Yale’s renowned scientists and physicians, and will be able to make use of Yale’s world-class research infrastructure.

On the research front, the promise of the Yale-UCL collaboration is already starting to be realized, thanks to a $4.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Three Yale faculty members (Dr. Martina Brueckner, associate professor of pediatric cardiology and genetics; Dr. Richard Kim, assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery; and Dr. Richard P. Lifton, Sterling Professor of Genetics and Internal Medicine) have teamed up with two faculty from UCL (John Deanfield, the British Heart Foundation Professor of Pediatric Cardiology, and William McKenna, head of the Inherited Cardiovascular Disease Unit) to search for genes that cause congenital heart disease. The team will use cutting-edge genomic screening at Yale to investigate a large cohort of heart disease patients being followed at UCL, the University of Rochester and Yale in order to identify disease genes.

Many other basic research projects are already underway on the genetic basis of hypertension and heart disease, as well as initiatives in drug discovery and imaging — areas in which Yale and UCL have top researchers and well-developed infrastructure. The collaboration will expand into other areas of basic research, including cancer biology, neuroscience and women’s health. Partners in industry will be sought to advance those projects that have commercial applications.

Ideas for future collaborations include a transatlantic fiber-optic network joining high-performance computing resources at Yale and UCL to efficiently share data and a coordinated Ph.D. training program that will allow doctoral students to take advantage of the clinical and research resources of both Yale and UCL.