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Brno to transform into research hub for factors affecting human health

Funding worth 40 million euros will help Masaryk University researchers to conduct comprehensive research into the impact of the environment, lifestyle and socio-economic status on human health.

In the upcoming years, a unique living lab designed to study the factors that affect human health will be created in Brno, thanks to the RECETOX centre at the Masaryk University Faculty of Science. The lab will build on international and local partnerships with the mission to enhance sustainability in society and its relationship with the environment.

RECETOX is a research centre that studies environmental toxins and their negative impact on human health. In an extraordinary achievement, RECETOX has been successful in three calls of the Horizon 2020 EU grant programme. This success will make it possible to further strengthen the ties between MU and leading European research institutions such as University College London, ETH Zurich and the European biobanking research infrastructure BBMRI.

All of these grants will be combined in a single project called CETOCOEN Excellence, which officially commenced in mid-January at a ceremony at the University Campus Bohunice. The project boasts a total budget of almost 40 million euros from both European and national funds.

Masaryk university rector Martin Bareš at a ceremony at the University Campus Bohunice.

The university is also planning to utilise this project to further strengthen its partnerships with the city of Brno, the South Moravian Region, university hospitals and other regional institutions. “Our goal is to build a community that will work together for a healthy future for our society. In addition to working with research institutions and national and regional authorities, we would also like to reinforce our ties with local businesses and citizens, who help us obtain valuable data and so should be the first to benefit from our research findings,” says Martin Bareš, the rector of Masaryk University, who commended the focused effort of the RECETOX team in the area of internationalisation.

The origin of chronic diseases

The main objective of the project is to assess the complex impact of the environment, lifestyle and socio-economic status on human health. Such a far-reaching goal can only be attained using long-term epidemiological and clinical studies involving thousands of people. The international partners of the project will help mine the data available from the long-term CELSPAC study, which has been following the life and health of children born in Brno for almost 30 years. The partners will also participate in further extension of the study and the utilisation of other regional resources so that any new findings will help protect the environment and human health and improve the quality of life, particularly in vulnerable groups.

RECETOX Director Jana Klánová.

“Combining the multilayered data on the presence of environmental toxins and their impact on humans, population health and people’s lifestyles, habits, and social status with the cutting-edge information technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning will help us find the decisive factors in chronic disease development and the most effective ways to prevent, diagnose and treat these diseases,” says RECETOX Director Jana Klánová when describing the purpose of the research.

The CETOCOEN Excellence project aims to create sufficient capacity to study the factors that underlie the increase in chronic diseases and disorders. Besides the diseases that are linked to population ageing, such as Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative and cardiometabolic diseases, this includes behaviour and learning disorders in children, allergies and autoimmune diseases and the reduced fertility observed in recent years.

Furthermore, the project aims to implement changes in the education system to make it more interdisciplinary. To this end, RECETOX plans to set up new study programmes that combine information about the environment and health and focus on mathematical biology and informatics. The research should also yield new applied methods and technologies, help transfer the new findings into legislation and ensure open access to the data obtained.

RECETOX lab for environmental toxins analysis.

The Czech innovation strategy

Karel Havlíček, the deputy prime minister and minister of industry and trade, emphasised during the CETOCOEN opening ceremony that the project goes hand in hand with the innovation strategy of the Czech Republic: “The countries that made the decision to focus on innovation now top the global socio-economic rankings. The vision of the Czech Republic is to be among the twenty most developed global economies by 2030 and fulfil the motto of our innovation strategy – Czech Republic: The Country For The Future,” says Havlíček.

“This year, the government Research, Development and Innovation Council obtained 1.5 billion euros from the national budget for research and development. This is 80,000 euros more than in 2018. As showcased by the living lab in Brno, the European funding programmes have been effective in helping to apply the research findings in practice. We also support the debureaucratisation and internationalisation of research and recruiting international experts and researchers,” concluded Havlíček.

In mid-January, the MU Rector Martin Bareš had the opportunity to present other strategic projects, which evolved from the activities of RECETOX, to the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. During his visit to Brno, the prime minister was given a tour of the University Campus Bohunice, where he discussed another project with the university leadership team and representatives of the MU Faculty of Medicine. The objective of this project is to improve healthcare using advanced information technologies for maximum safety. The prime minister was also shown the Simulation Centre, which is currently under construction and will be available to students of medicine in the next academic year.