The Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine is Europe’s largest research institute dedicated entirely to the development, validation, and use of in silico medicine technologies.
Insigneo was established in May 2012 and has attracted over 140 academics and clinicians drawn from 28 departments within our parent institutions, the University of Sheffield, and the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Insigneo’s Vision, Values and Mission
Insigneo will realise the scientific ambition behind the Virtual Physiological Human, producing a transformational impact on healthcare.
The University of Sheffield (TUOS) is a civic university, rooted in a city that experienced a dramatic economic crisis in the 1980s, to which the community reacted with a solidarity rarely seen in this country. Our identity emerges from the beauty of the Peak District and the tradition of metalworking. This produces a unique cultural environment within our University and our Teaching Hospital, that everyone who comes from outside notices immediately: we are nice to each other.
TUOS is one of the most collaborative universities in UK; more, there is a collective ethos that working together is good and desirable. This is true within the University, in the City, and in the relationship that the University has with the city. If there is a grand challenge that requires a collaborative approach, this is the best place to be. Because of this we believed that Sheffield could become the world leader of a radically new, highly interdisciplinary approach to biomedical research, in silico medicine.
In these five years of operations Insigneo has developed its own set of values, that derive from those of its parent organisations, the University of Sheffield (Excellence; Ambition; Engagement; Collegiality; Resourcefulness; Resilience; Agility; Diversity; Sustainability), and of the Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (Working together for patients; Respect and dignity; Commitment to quality of care; Compassion; Improving lives; Everyone counts).
Insigneo’s values statement is: We work for the future, the many, the weaker. This means that everything else being the same we will give more importance to research on:
- conditions that affect larger portions of the population;
- improving the quality and not merely the quantity of life, with a special focus on children;
- conditions affecting patients neglected for economical, geographical, or socio-political reasons.
This means that, for example, while we acknowledge that most predictive medicine technologies target first world healthcare systems, because of their cost and complexity, collectively we commit to pursue the development of methods and solutions that could also be useful in developing countries.
Within the “weaker” category we also include animals. The nature of in silico medical research is such that the need for experimental human and animal subjects can be reduced, indeed in some cases entirely removed. Insigneo is fully committed to the development of technologies that can help pursue the goals identified by the National Centre for Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement of Animals in Research (NC3Rs). In particular, we are developing technologies in three directions:
- To introduce scientific and technical methods that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research;
- To ensure that those animal studies that remain necessary are as robustly and reproducibly designed as possible;
- To develop research methodologies that maximise the welfare of any laboratory animals involved.
Insigneo performs cutting-edge research in areas of fundamental and applied biomedical modelling, imaging and informatics. It will pursue the research agenda of the Virtual Physiological Human initiative; in particular, the Institute will focus on the Digital Patient, In Silico Clinical Trials, and Personal Health Forecasting. It will achieve a transformational impact on healthcare through multidisciplinary collaboration in strategic areas, which initially will include personalised treatments and independent, active and healthy ageing.
Brief history of the Insigneo Institute
In early 2011 Prof Mike Hounslow, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the very successful Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield was looking for new opportunities for expansion. Sheffield was historically one of the best engineering schools in the country, but was becoming perceived as being slightly traditional in its offering. So Mike was on the lookout for an Engineering Grand Challenge that was strongly innovative, when his attention was caught by the Virtual Physiological Human initiative.
The VPH Institute, the not-for-profit international organisation representing this emerging research area, offered this definition: “The Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) is a methodological and technological framework that, once established, will enable collaborative investigation of the human body as a single complex system”. This research line was driven by considerable investment: Japan had run a Global Centre of Excellence in in silico medicine, and in the US various federal agencies, coordinated by the Interagency Modeling and Analysis Group, were aggressively funding what they called Multiscale Modelling for Biomedical, Biological, Behavioral, Environmental and Clinical Research. The European Commission was investing over €200m in VPH research as part of FP7, and Germany had funded a single research initiative, the Virtual Liver Network, with over €40m. The UK was winning the lion’s share of VPH project funding, and several academics in Sheffield were involved in leading roles, including Rod Smallwood and Richard Clayton, (Computer Science), Rod Hose and Pat Lawford (Cardiovascular Science), and Wendy Tindale (Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust).
In October 2011 a working group was appointed, formed by Marco Viceconti, Alex Frangi, Rod Hose, Pat Lawford, and Wendy Tindale, with the mandate to explore the creation of a research institute focused on the VPH. In May 2012 the working group approved the initial charter of the Insigneo Institute for In Silico Medicine. A steering committee, which included the PVCs of the faculties of medicine and engineering, plus the medical director of the Trust, approved the charter a few days later: Insigneo was born.
The vision statement, reported in the charter, is simple: “INSIGNEO will realise the scientific ambition behind the Virtual Physiological Human, producing a transformational impact on healthcare”. The first part required an interdisciplinary research agenda, across the faculties of Engineering, Medicine, and Science; the second required serious engagement with the NHS, starting from the two local NHS Trusts. These requirements drove the vision of a Virtual Institute, where most members would remain located in their University or Hospital departments, but they would participate in the life of the Institute through a series of initiatives coordinated centrally.
Five years after its foundation, Insigneo is universally considered a success story. Our most recent report, relating to activities from October 2011 until July 2016, speaks of 140 academics and consultants from 28 departments who are members of Insigneo, £37m of research income affiliated to the Institute, three physical locations (plus points of presence in the three local hopistals), 163 affiliated publications with 349 citations, three solutions (VirtuHeart, BoneDVC, CT2S) that reached Technology Readiness Level 7 (tested on at least 100 patients), and many more accomplishments.
The Organisational Model
Insigneo’s governance structure was recently re-organised, to reflect the massive growth of the Institute in its first five years of history. From August 1st, 2017 the Insigneo Institute is led by a Board of Directors composed of the Executive Director and four Fellows of the Institute, each with a well-defined executive remit.
The Board of Directors reports to an eight-member Steering Committee which represents the three faculties of the University of Sheffield, and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS FT.
The Board of Directors is also supported by an Advisory Board, formed of several of the Institute’s founders and three external advisors – in research, clinical translation, and industrial translation.
Sites: Insigneo’s Physical Sites, Address, Access Instructions
Insigneo @ Pam Liversidge Building
Insigneo’s headquarters are within the Pam Liversidge Building, a newly-built wing adjacent to the Faculty of Engineering. Here 70-80 academics, post-docs and PhD students conduct research in various aspects of in silico medicine. The facility also hosts a large Biomechanics and Mechanobiology Laboratory and a Human Movement Analysis Laboratory.
Insigneo @ Claremont Crescent
As part of the Polaris project, a completely-refurbished facility located between the Sheffield Children’s Hospital and the Royal Hallamshire Hospital hosts the part of Insigneo that focuses on medical imaging and image computing.
Insigneo @ Medical School
The teams of Pat Lawford, Rod Hose, Julian Gunn, and Paul Evans are located in an Insigneo-branded space on O floor of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, a part of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS FT. Insigneo also participates in Skelet.AL, the University of Sheffield Skeletal Analysis laboratory, and in the Mellanby Centre for Bone Research.
Insigneo hospital points of presence
Northern General Hospital: Insigneo has a point of presence at the NGH, located within the Clinical Research Facility. In addition to a dedicated staff room, we have access to a large consultation room that can host special instrumentation during clinical trials.
Royal Hallamshire Hospital: in addition to the Insigneo space on O Floor, we are setting up a NeuroMuscular Quantification Lab linked to the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre in Translational neuroscience for chronic neurological disorders, which is also accessible via the RHH Clinical Research Facility.
Sheffield Children’s Hospital: A new EOS Imaging System is being installed at the SCH, and will be co-managed by the Insigneo Institute.
Board of Directors
Marco Viceconti (Executive Director) – Chair
Damien Lacroix (Director for Research)
Andrew Narracott (Director for Operations)
Gwendolen Reilly (Director for Teaching)
Paul Morris (Director for Translation)
Mike Hounslow (PVC Engineering) – Chair
Pamela Shaw (PVC Medicine, Dentistry & Health)
David Throssell (Medical Director STH)
Nigel Clarke (PVC Science)
David Petley (PVC Research & Innovation)
John Haycock (FDR Engineering)
Chris Newman (FDR Medicine)
Rob Freckleton (FDR Science)
Simon Heller (Director of Research and Development, STH)
Wendy Tindale (Director of Innovation, STH)
Pat Lawford (Founder) – Chair
Wendy Tindale (Founder)
Richard Clayton (Founder)
Rod Hose (Founder)
Paul Griffiths (Founder)
Peter Hunter (Director of Auckland Bioengineering Institute)
Markus Reiterer (Senior Principal Scientist, Medtronic)
Andrew Taylor (Prof Cardiovascular Imaging, Great Ormond Street Hospital)