University’s blindness therapy comes a step closer following landmark licensing deal with US firm

Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, who have a disease that can lead to blindness, could have their sight restored after The University of Manchester entered into a technology license with Seattle-based company Acucela Inc.

The agreement will see Acucela commercialise technology developed by researchers at The University of Manchester that has the potential to partially restore vision in people who are blind from degenerative retinal conditions such as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

RP is an inherited retinal disease that causes a progressive degeneration of the photoreceptor cells in the eye. Often beginning in childhood, RP patients most commonly first experience difficulties with peripheral and night vision, followed by poor colour perception and central vision; in many sufferers this can eventually result in legal blindness. RP affects approximately 1 out of every 4,000 people in the US, Europe and Asia, around 1.5M people in total, and there is currently no effective treatment for this disorder.

Acucela, a clinical-stage ophthalmology company that specialises in developing treatments to slow the progression of sight-threatening diseases of the eye, will now undertake a programme of clinical trials ahead of commercialisation of the technology.  It is anticipated that the first patients will be treated within 3 years and Acucela plans to evaluate the ability of the therapy to partially restore vision in patients who are legally blind.

The therapy was developed by University of Manchester researchers Dr. Jasmina Cehajic-Kapetanovic and Professors Robert Lucas and Paul Bishop. In advanced RP the photoreceptor (light-sensitive) cells die off, but other neuronal cells are still present in the retina. In trials using RP affected mice with a complete loss of their photoreceptor cells, the scientists used a gene therapy approach which successfully made these other cells light-responsive.  This optogenetic therapy was sufficiently effective at restoring visional responses in the mice to allow them to detect spatial patterns presented using an ordinary flat screen display.

Dr. Ryo Kubota, Chairman, President and CEO of Acucela said:

“We are extremely excited to enter into this collaboration with the University and to begin the important development work needed to unlock the potential of optogenetic gene therapy to improve visual function in patients who have lost much of their vision as well as their hope.”

Dr. Paul Bishop, FRCOphth, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology, University of Manchester added:

“This is a very exciting therapeutic approach as the blind mice we treated could see surprisingly well in normal lighting conditions, and we think the approach may be safe as we are putting a normal human retinal protein back into the retina, but in cells that don’t normally make it.  We are delighted at the prospect of working with Acucela towards restoring some visual function in patients who have severe visual loss from RP and similar conditions.”

Director of Operations at UMIP, Dr. Rich Ferrie commented,

 “We believe that Acucela is the ideal partner to develop a gene therapy for RP based on this ground-breaking science. The licensing arrangement has the potential to deliver significant economic return to the University if the clinical trials and commercialisation programme are successful. More importantly the signing of this agreement represents a potentially pivotal moment and offers real hope for millions of RP patients around the world.”

The technology was first reported in Current Biology in June 2015 and in The New Scientist in August 2015 and it was also presented at the ARVO eye research conference in the US in May 2015.

Cobra Biologics and The University of Manchester Announce Collaboration to Improve Industrial Scale-up

It has been announced that a two year collaboration between The University of Manchester and Cobra Biologics is to take place.

The partnership is focused on improving understanding of cellular bio-processing which is required for the scaled production of therapeutic proteins. The collaboration is supported via the FLexible Interchange Programme (FLIP) Scheme from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The partnership aims to produce better predictability in the production of bio-pharmaceuticals which can be used in treatments for diseases like cancer and inflammation.

The agreement will enable the exchange of knowledge, technology and skills and will allow Cobra access to the University’s internationally renowned academic and associated research group. Professor Dickson will benefit from Cobra’s production data and significant operational knowledge of industrial manufacturing processes.

Dr Daniel Smith, CSO Cobra Biologics, said:

This is an exciting and unique opportunity for Cobra Biologics to gain scientific and technological insights from one of the senior UK academics working in the bioprocessing area.
“In addition, Professor Dickson has links and collaborations with UK and international academics, addressing all aspects of production of biopharmaceuticals.
“The insights of Professor Dickson into the various processes and tools used, combined with historical data case studies undertaken by Cobra Biologics, will allow better definition and enhancement of our current manufacturing processes and to build towards the idealised platforms and processes for future manufacture of innovator and biosimilar molecules.

Professor Alan Dickson, The University of Manchester, commented:

For an academic, FLIP support offers a tremendous opportunity to place the intellectual driver of research in the context of commercial perspectives.

In working with colleagues at Cobra Biologics over the next two years, we hope to develop predictive visions for choice, manipulation and decision-making in manufacturing processes. The collaboration will offer long-term benefits for the University of Manchester, Cobra Biologics and, consequently, for the biopharmaceuticals sector in the North West of England.

This is a true exchange of vision across the industrial/academic interface, in which both partners will learn from each other’s perspectives, with learnings that will be translated to subsequent research projects and commercial activities.

Soil in Smith Quad stores 12.1 tons of carbon

Damla Kiral, a now third year MSci Zoology student, was awarded a Faculty Sustainability Studentship in Franciska de Vries’ lab to estimate the total amount of carbon stored in the Smith Quad. Soil is the third largest global carbon pool, and it stores more carbon than vegetation and atmosphere combined. The amount of carbon stored in soils can be increased to mitigate CO2 emissions, which cause global climate change.

Damla took soil samples from all vegetation types in the Quad and analysed them for total carbon content. She also measured the bulk density, soil depth, and area of all vegetation types, and calculated the total amount of carbon stored in the Smith Quad.

She found that the Smith Quad stores 12.1 tons of carbon in total. The majority of this carbon (75%) is stored in the grass areas, because grass covers the largest area of the quad. However, the raised beds had the highest carbon concentration (17%, compared to 7% under grass).

The total amount of carbon stored in the quad is equal to the amount of carbon emitted from 60 economy class direct return flights from Manchester to Paris.

This project illustrates the importance of urban soils in carbon storage, and the role the University can play in this. But, it also highlights an easier way for academics to mitigate carbon emissions, by simply cutting down their air travel.

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Minister in Manchester to announce £40 million funding boost

Vince Cable MP speaking to Professors Perdita Barran and Bob KellBusiness Secretary Dr Vince Cable has visited the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) to meet scientists working on synthetic biology. This follows the announcement of £40million funding into this cutting-edge research area, £32 million of which is being split across new research centres in Manchester, Edinburgh, and Warwick.

The investment comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the Medical Research Council (MRC), as well as via capital investment from the UK government. Funds will be awarded over a five-year period, boosting national research capacity and ensuring that the expertise to nurture this growing industry exists in the UK.

The MIB will receive £10.3million to establish the Centre for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Speciality Chemicals (SYNBIOCHEM). This centre will develop new products and methods for drug discovery and production, agricultural chemicals, and new materials for sustainable manufacturing. Professor Nigel Scrutton, Co-Director of SYNBIOCHEM, said:

“Our vision is to harness the power of synthetic biology to propel chemicals and natural products production towards ’green’ and sustainable manufacturing processes. More broadly, the Centre will provide the general tools, technology platforms, and ‘know-how’ to drive academic discovery and translate new knowledge and processes towards industrial exploitation.”

Synthetic biology is a new scientific method that applies engineering principles to biology to create new biological parts, devices, and systems. It has been used to generate biological ‘factories’ producing useful products such as medicines, chemicals, green energy, and tools for improving crops. It has been identified by the government as one of ‘Eight Great Technologies’ in which Great Britain can be a world leader. Fellow Co-Director, Professor Eriko Takano, added:

“Synthetic biology is an emerging science that has the capacity to transform the UK and European industrial landscape. It will revolutionise manufacturing processes to deliver renewable and sustainable materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals, and energy that will impact significantly on our economic, social, and environmental landscape. It promises a brighter future for all.”

Business Secretary Dr Cable discussed the funding:

“From materials for advanced manufacturing to developing new antibiotics and better tests for diseases, this new £40million investment is in one of the most promising areas of modern science. It will see our world class researchers using bacteria to produce chemicals to make everyday products like toothbrushes and credit cards, which are currently made from unsustainable fossil fuels.  Not only will this help improve people’s everyday lives in the future but it will support long-term economic growth.”

£3 million grant for cutting-edge biotechnology

MIB BuildingProfessor Nigel Scrutton and his team at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) have been awarded nearly £3million to create sustainable ways of manufacturing chemicals used in everyday products. They are one of five long-term research projects benefiting from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Strategic Longer and Larger Grants (sLoLaS) scheme.

The team will design and assemble bespoke biological parts to be used in a synthetic, engineered microbial factory. They hope these biological compounds will replace those currently taken from fossil fuels. Professor Scrutton says:

“Our vision is to harness the power of Synthetic Biology to propel chemicals and natural products production towards ’green’ and sustainable manufacturing processes. More broadly, the programme will provide the general tools, technology platforms, and SynBio ‘know-how’ that will impact widely in the sustainable manufacture of chemicals and natural products for development by the industrial sector.”

£15.8 million is being awarded to five projects in the UK. They were chosen based on the basis of their scientific excellence, long timescales, extensive resources, multidisciplinary approaches, and internationally leading research teams. Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive, said:

“BBSRC’s sLoLaS scheme gives world-leading scientists long-term funding to work on critical research challenges. In this round those challenges include producing clean energy, new ways to produce medicines and other valuable chemicals, and protecting livestock from disease. Not only will these funded projects help the UK and the world to address these challenges, but it will build vital research capacity here in the UK and provide opportunities for economic and social benefits.”

Faculty researcher receives grant for pancreatic cancer project

Dr Jason BruceFaculty researcher Dr Jason Bruce has been awarded a grant of around £180,000 by The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF.)

PCRF have awarded a total of £1.2million to ambitious projects tackling the UK’s deadliest cancer. It is the second year that they have invested over £1million in a single funding round, enabling innovative research that could lead to new treatments for this aggressive and complex disease.

Dr Bruce’s work focuses on pancreatic cancer cells and the unique way that they extract energy from the nutrients which help them to survive and grow. The cancer cells use this energy source to pump calcium out of the cell. As high levels of calcium can be fatal to such cells, Dr Bruce’s project will aim to utilise new drugs and cut off the supply of energy to the calcium pumps. This would kill cancer cells whilst leaving healthy ones unharmed.  Maggie Blanks, PCRF’s founder and CEO, said:

“This is an amazing achievement, and it is thanks to the tireless fundraising of our supporters around the country who know that funding research is the only way to accelerate the development of new treatments and diagnostic tools that will improve patients’ chances of survival.”

Prestigious fellowships for three Faculty scientists

A lab workerOur congratulations go to three Faculty researchers who have recently been awarded important independent fellowships. Gloria Lopez-Castejon and John Grainger received two of the twelve available Henry Dale Fellowships, while Franciska de Vries became the Faculty’s sixth recipient of a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship.

The Henry Dale Fellowships, which are awarded twice a year, are for outstanding postdoctoral scientists who wish to build their own independent research career in the UK. Gloria and John both work in the area of inflammation. John’s interests focus on the role of lymphoid cells in the regulation of inflammation and immunity, whereas Gloria’s fellowship will focus on how the regulation of certain post-translational modifications of proteins orchestrates an inflammation response.

The BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship, which Franciska has been awarded, is intended for scientists who have demonstrated high potential and hope to establish themselves as independent researchers. There were only five awards available, and the support will last for five years.  Franciska will be researching the role of plant roots in ecosystem responses to climate change. Prof Ian Roberts, Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty, said:

“These fellowships are highly prestigious. To see our promising young researchers recognised in this way demonstrates the calibre of the scientists working in the Faculty.”

Manchester researchers share in £18million industry-academia networks

University researchers have been chosen to lead new networks linking industry and academia which will sunflower (1)improve energy and food security and develop new drugs. Four of the 13 networks, announced by the BBSRC, will be led by experts from Manchester. One of these is the Bioprocessing Network, led by Faculty researcher Professor Alan Dickson and Professor Christopher Smales from The University of Kent. Professor Dickson said:

“Biologics are complex products made by cells with immense commercial and social potential. Antibody proteins, for example, are revolutionary medicines for treatment of previously incurable diseases. The bioprocessing network (BioProNET) will integrate academic and industrial strengths to improve current practice and establish step-changing and innovative solutions for the manufacture of the next generation of biologics. By enhancing cost effectiveness of bioprocessing, the sector will move towards more affordable biologics for sustainable and healthier lifestyles.”

All of the networks will receive funds to support proof of concept research projects which will demonstrate benefits for industry. The networks will then work with industries to investigate the concepts further. Many of the ideas will build into the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst, funded by the BBSRC, the Technology Strategy Board, and the EPSRC, which will be launched in early 2014. The Catalyst has benefited from recent cash injections and will soon support the development of ideas from concept to commercialisation.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

“To get ahead in the global race we need to turn our world-beating science and research into world-beating products and services, as set out in our Industrial Strategy. These networks will unlock the huge potential of biotechnology and bioenergy, such as finding innovative ways to use leftover food, and creating chemicals from plant cells.”

£2.8million funding boost to track development from embryo to adult

fruitfly (1)Faculty scientists have been awarded £2.8million to further understanding of how cells develop and form particular types of body tissue. The award is part of a £17.7million cash injection from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) which aims to harness the power of bioscience to make significant impacts in healthcare and agriculture. The Manchester team will collaborate with the University of Cambridge and University College London.

Using fruit flies as a model system, researchers will answer important questions regarding how much of each gene product is expressed at one time, which version of each gene is expressed, and which protein partners interact with the gene. Faculty scientist Professor Simon Hubbard explained:

“This could help explain how gene defects lead to abnormal development. Our simonhubbarddevelopment is governed by the complex interplay between the proteins encoded by our genes. Careful control of these proteins at a specific time during development dictates the fate of cells and the tissues they will form. While some of this information is contained within the genome sequence, we currently lack the full picture of what happens during development in the embryo. This project will close the gap in knowledge using both experimental and computational science. ”

The research is funded through the BBSRC’s Strategic Longer and Larger Awards (sLoLas,) which give world-leading research teams the time and resources they require. Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC’s Chief Executive, said:

“This public funding offers long-term support to address major research challenges, while building research capacity in important areas and maximising economic and social benefits for the UK.”

University receives doctoral training award in regenerative medicine

The University has been chosen to host four new national Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT) in science and cdtengineering. Universities and Science Minister David Willetts revealed details of how the £350m fund will be used to train more than 3,500 postgraduate students. It is the UK’s largest investment in postgraduate training in engineering and physical sciences and will fund more than 70 new centres.

The funding, allocated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will target areas vital to economic growth. The four CDTs awarded to Manchester are in ‘Power Networks,’ ‘Next Generation Nuclear,’ ‘Science and Applications of Graphene and Related Nanomaterials,’ and ‘Regenerative Medicine.’

The Regenerative Medicine CDT, led by Professor Cay Kielty of FLS, with support from the faculties of Medicine and Human Sciences and Engineering and Physical Sciences, will tackle the growing need for therapeutic solutions to the ageing, degenerative, and injury-related pathologies faced by our society and address the shortage in skilled scientists equipped to meet these needs. The team will deliver multidisciplinary training in a variety of related areas and provide clinical translational training supported by the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre. This is the only CDT in regenerative medicine to be funded under the new scheme. Professor Kielty said:

“This CDT award enables us to exploit Manchester’s unique biomedical strengths to train future regenerative medicine experts and enhance the health and wealth of the UK.”

Funding boost to study genetic determinants of skeletal diseases

Faculty researchers have been awarded £1.3million by the European Union to fund a five-year study which aims skeletaldiseasesto boost understanding and inform future treatments of osteoarthritis and other skeletal diseases. They will harness their knowledge of less complex skeletal diseases, such as dwarfism, in an attempt to learn more about common conditions such as osteoarthritis, which have a more complex genetic element.

The Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research is leading the research. Professor Ray Boot-Handford said:

“Skeletal diseases like osteoarthritis present a major social, economic, and healthcare challenge which is set to rise as we live longer. The concept behind this research is to study and integrate through modelling the cellular and tissue effects of both common and rare skeletal diseases to gain a better understanding of how they work, how the disease progresses, and age-related changes. This will help us find markers, perhaps a blood or urine test like you currently have for diabetes, to show who suffers from early stages of these diseases. This will help determine whether potential treatments are working.”

The funding is part of a £10million pound programme looking at systems biology for the functional validation of genetic determinants of skeletal diseases (known as SYBIL). Seven European Countries are involved as part of the EU’s FP7 Health Innovation 2013 grant. Research began this month, with the hope of identifying new and more effective treatments for these common diseases.

Two University Institutes Secure €3.4million to Train Future Generation of Investigators

The Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) and Photon Science mibInstitute (PSI) have secured a Marie Curie training network grant worth €3.4 million to train the future generation of investigators. The four year grant entitled “MAGnetic Innovation in Catalysis”, known as the MAGIC Innovative Doctoral Programme, will see the MIB and PSI host 12 early stage researchers who will be appointed to three-year PhD training programmes. The University of Manchester will partner with six Universities (Tokyo, Freiburg, Lund, Joseph Fourier in France, Edinburgh and Copenhagen) and five companies (AZ, Bruker, TGK, Conformetrix, and SarOMICS). Each early stage researcher will be closely linked to the international and industrial partners who will be actively involved in their research projects. Professor Nigel Scrutton, Director of MIB, said:

“The concept of team-based activity is well founded across research groups in MIB and PSI and will enrich the training experience by bringing multiple skills embedded in these teams to MAGIC programmes. Our aim is to train the future generation of leading investigators of biological catalysis/enzymology in developing new enabling technologies that can advance physical understanding of catalysis and mechanism. These collaborative research projects will explore the mechanistic details of enzyme systems by adopting innovative, versatile and unique experimental techniques to probe the contributions of motions across multiple spatial and temporal timescales and quantum chemical effects. In turn, these novel methods will transform current experimental capabilities and will be applied to a range of important biological catalysts to probe the mechanistic importance of coupled motions and quantum physico-chemical effects.”

It is expected that this grant will commence in February 2014.

A Hub for Engineering and Exploiting the Stem Cell Niche

Faculty professors Sue Kimber and Cay Kielty are partners in a new cross-stemcellsuniversity consortium which will form a research platform to address the gaps in knowledge, the challenges, and the opportunities for regenerative medicine offered by stem cells and their microenvironment (‘niche’). This hub will bring together world-leading expertise from Manchester, Edinburgh, KCL, Cambridge, Bristol, ICL, and Keele. The consortium is funded by an award to the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform, led by the Medical Research Council.

The hub aims to discover and deliver niche-based approaches to regenerative medicines by focusing on exemplar tissues such as cartilage. It will establish a platform of cutting-edge technologies which the UK community can apply to a spectrum of disease in which the failure of tissue repair causes societal suffering and economic hardship.

The overall objective of the hub is to promote the regeneration of healthy tissues by identifying the niche signals that direct stem cells to restore tissue function. This knowledge will allow stem cells to be regulated using biological agents, drugs, and other methods, and thus be exploited therapeutically. They also anticipate that new understandings of the abnormal niche created by inflammation following tissue damage will improve the effectiveness of repair by transplanted cells.

The consortium’s funding will help UK scientists overcome barriers in this emerging field, allowing them to transform laboratory discoveries into the most effective clinical applications. Regenerative medicine is a relatively new field of science, but with its great potential to repair or replace damaged tissues, it could provide therapies for as yet incurable conditions such as heart disease, Parkinson’s, blindness, osteoarthritis, and liver failure. Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said:

“Regenerative medicine is a hugely promising area of science, which is why it featured in our Strategy for UK Life Sciences and was identified as one of the eight great technologies. This investment will help take excellent basic research through to clinical application, benefitting patients and driving growth.”

Faculty at the Forefront of Inflammatory Bowel Disease Network

Faculty researcher Professor Werner Müller is the Scientific Coordinator wernermullerfor a new €12 million systems research network, created to identify better treatments for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The network, called SysmedIBD, includes universities and companies from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, and New Zealand.

The five year project is aiming for a better understanding of the disease. To achieve this, the team will attempt to identify risk genes, investigate the effects of diet, and develop methods for better prediction of treatment for patients. The research network will use the systems medicine approach. This utilises specific patient details to build mathematical models and provide the best possible treatments for each individual. Professor Müller explains:

“This systems medicine approach will lead to a better personalised diagnosis and treatment of patients. We will target the central pathway of inflammation in the hope that by understanding the signalling processes we can eventually manipulate them. IBD affects every patient differently making it difficult to develop effective treatments. Current treatments are very expensive and many patients develop resistance to the drugs. We hope that this intense programme of research will help us to overcome the current limitations of treatments for this incurable condition.”

The term IBD refers mainly to Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Both conditions are chronic long-term diseases that involve inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. In the UK, IBD affects about one person in every 350. This new network aims to bring relief to these people. Professor Jonathan Rhodes from the collaborating group at the University of Liverpool says:

“This is a great boost for Inflammatory Bowel Disease research in the UK and stands an excellent chance of leading to benefits for patients.”

Funding for the project has come from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme. The €12 million grant is being shared between 12 participants, with the largest share, €2.5 million, coming to The University of Manchester.

Budding Researchers to experience Cutting-edge Research Thanks to Pioneering Project

The Faculty of Life Sciences was central to a recent successful bid for funding from Research Councils UK (RCUK). As part of a University wide programme, the Faculty will play a key part in the pioneering School-University Partnerships Initiative, an RCUK campaign which aims to introduce young people from diverse backgrounds to cutting-edge research.

As one of only twelve institutions to succeed in their application, the University will receive a share of £3.5 million funding. RCUK hope that this cash injection will help to raise the aspirations of the young people involved, leading them to further study and success in their future lives.

As part of the University’s involvement Faculty staff and researchers will run a Life Sciences Summer School for Teachers. Teachers at schools and colleges will get a rare opportunity to update their knowledge on current research techniques as they undertake lab tours, hands-on practical work, and exclusive seminars. These experiences should equip teachers with the skills and information to confidently use contemporary research in the classroom and encourage research skills in their learners.

Many of the young people involved will come from groups currently under-represented at university, such as those in receipt of free school meals, those with experience of local authority care, and disabled pupils. Discussing the initiative, David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said:


“Maintaining a good supply of scientists and researchers is vital to our economy and society, but to do this we need to draw talent from as wide a pool as possible. That is why the School-University Partnerships Initiative is so important.”


New Use for Old Drug Could Bring Hope to Alzheimer’s Patients

Scientists Identify Better Melonoma Treatment Method

Funded by Cancer Research UK, scientists at The University of Manchester have identified a protein that may hold the key to creating more effective drug treatments for melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of cancer. The work has focused on why new drugs, called MEK inhibitors, aren’t as effective at killing cancer cells as they should be. They discovered that a protein, known as MITF, which helps cells to produce pigment but also allows melanoma cells to grow and survive, has been providing cancer cells with a resistance to MEK inhibitors.

After comparing human melanoma cells that respond to the drug to those that don’t, the researchers reduced levels of a protein called SMURF2 in the melanoma cancer cells and then treated the tumour with the previously unsuccessful MEK inhibitor. They found a 100 fold increase in the sensitivity of the cells to the drug. This suggests that the removal of SMURF2 makes the MEK inhibitor a lot more powerful. Discussing these findings, Dr Claudia Wellbrook stated:

“Much of cancer research is now focused on finding new drug combinations. It’s recognised that cancers frequently find new ways to combat even the most novel and highly efficient drug treatments, so we are now focusing on targeting the mechanisms that allow the cancer cells to overcome the drug effects. We’re very excited about the potential for this new approach, especially as it has proved so effective in our experiments.”

Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK. It is critical that advances such as these continue to be made so that cancer treatments can be both more effective and less harmful to patients. Following on from these findings, Dr Wellbrook and her team hope to find a drug that can reduce the activity of SMURF2 in cancer cells. If the search is successful then these University of Manchester scientists could provide a more powerful and successful approach to treating melanoma.

£5.2M to improve understanding of aging immune system

A team of researchers from The University of Manchester, working with the University of Warwick, have been awarded £5.2M to investigate our immune response and how it is affected by aging.

The grant is part of BBSRC’s Strategic Longer and Larger Awards scheme, which gives world-leading teams the time and resources to address areas of key strategic importance.

The research focuses on a signalling system called ‘NF-kappaB’ which plays a key role in regulating how our immune system responds to diseases. Incorrect regulation of ‘NF-kappaB’ has been linked to cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, viral infection, and improper immune development.

Principle Investigator, Professor Michael White of the Faculty of Life Sciences, explains:

“As we get older our immune system tends to get weaker and it becomes increasingly difficult to shake off diseases. At the same time we tend to develop arthritis and other auto-immune diseases. We know that NF-kappaB plays an important role in these immune responses and determines the fate of cells in the body by switching genes on or off, but we don’t know how this process is controlled through normal life. We will investigate how NF-kappaB signalling is controlled within the body, by processes like the cell division cycle and the sleep-wake cycle of the 24 h circadian clock. This is vital if we are to understand how and why our immune system falters with age.”

A multidisciplinary team of scientists (consisting of physiologists, biologists, mathematicians and computer scientists) will use cells from specially bred mice to understand the NF-kappaB response to a variety of stimuli.

The data from this research, and other published data, will be used to build integrated mathematical models that can predict important aspects of cell, tissue and animal physiology relevant to understanding the maintenance of a healthy organism and how this may change with age.