MEDICAL research in the region has received a £1.5m boost.

The Department of Health allocation is to encourage research at several centres in the region.

Because Newcastle Medical School has been operating for 180 years, research has tended to be concentrated in and around Tyneside.

But now the Government is trying to encourage medical research in every corner of the region.

As part of a recent partnership between the universities of Newcastle and Durham, research facilities for postgraduate medical students have recently opened at the James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, and at Sunderland Royal Hosp-ital.

By 2006, a research centre is due to open at the University Hospital of North Durham.

Health Minister Lord Warner said the latest funding was part of the Government's drive to strengthen research and innovation and make sure that the NHS had the benefit of the latest scientific developments.

The money will go to NHS funds, helping to establish research facilities at more regional hospitals, attractingworld-class researchers, and will pay for research in areas such as genetics, diabetes and cancer.

The aim is to benefit NHS patients locally and nationally.

Lord Warner said: "This extra funding will mean that the NHS' future doctors can play their part in developing new treatments for tomorrow's patients."

Professor Reg Jordan, dean of undergraduate medicine at Newcastle University, said: "Everybody involved in training medical students in the North-East is over the moon at this allocation."

Prof Jordan said the investment in research facilities was an attempt to match the cash that has recently gone into expanding medical training places in the region.

"Since 1998, our medical student intake has gone up from 185 to 340 each year.

"This is an attempt to really regionalise medicine and widen participation," he said.