WHAT is being hailed as one of the most significant developments in medicine and health in the region for many years is launched today.

Durham University is setting up what it calls a Health Strategy Board for education and research.

The aim is to make a real difference to the health and well-being of people living in the North-East by forging closer links between the university's research groups and the NHS.

The idea is to bring together leading North-East academics and research groups in a close new collaboration with senior practitioners and decision-makers within the region's Health Service. It will also embrace key players from regional bodies, local government and national research bodies.

The initiative will seek to make a significant contribution to the quality of life and effectiveness of health care by co-ordinating teaching, research and links with the NHS and partners, promoting a new understanding of the real value and impact of collaborative working.

To give the new project the best possible start, a specially invited audience will gather at the Queen's Campus of Durham University in Stockton today to listen to presentations highlighting the excellence of research work currently taking place at Durham University and the impact it is already having on the NHS.

The launch will take place at the university's Wolfson Research Institute, which since its foundation on the banks of the River Tees in Stockton in 2001, has become established as a world class centre.

Much of the centre's work focuses on tackling the region's health problems. Its work also contributes to improved health and health care practices and seeks to make a difference to development and regeneration in the North-East.

There will be a keynote address by Sir Derek Wanless, special advisor to the Government on health service resourcing and public health issues.

Sir Derek, who has had a major influence on Government policies on the best way to fund the NHS, says: "I warmly welcome the setting up of the Health Strategy Board. Its aims and its promotion of collaborative working fit exactly with the recommendations I made in my two reports to Government. I expect it to make a big impact nationally on policy formation as well as locally in improving people's lives."

The work of the university's health and medical research staff will be presented under four main themes: clinical and health services, life science, medical humanities and public policy, and health and well-being.

Professor Pali Hungin, dean of medicine, will look at inequalities in gaining access to health services and highlight groundwork on the management of heart failure, diabetes and gastro-intestinal problems.

Professor Chris Hutchison, of the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, will talk about the particular challenges of the ageing North-East population and the university's study of visual problems in stroke patients and the effectiveness of drug treatments.

The importance of art in health care will be examined by Professor Martyn Evans, while Professor David Hunter will take a critical look at the policies within the NHS and how they contribute to health improvement and inequalities. He will also discuss the work of the Queen's Campus-based Public Health Observatory in monitoring health and disease trends and giving early warning of public health problems.

Today's event will be opened by Sir Kenneth Calman, vice chancellor of Durham University, and Professor Ray Hudson, director of the Wolfson Research Institute.

Sir Kenneth says: "By working in close collaboration with our colleagues in the NHS we can help to bring about real and effective changes in the way primary health care services are organised and delivered. A great deal of exciting world-class research is happening at Durham and we have some really excellent people working on a significant range of research in areas of health and medicine which do make a real difference."