University of Dundee

X-ray vision makes structures crystal clear

23 Apr 2012

The Wellcome Trust has awarded a grant of £800,000 in support of structural biology and drug discovery in the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee.

The grant has allowed the installation of new X-ray diffraction equipment and a robotic sample changer. The new equipment is for research in single crystal X-ray diffraction, which is the most powerful technique for revealing accurate three-dimensional molecular structures.

With access now to a more intense X-ray source, a more sensitive detector and robotics to improve efficiency, researchers in Dundee are primed to expand structural research addressing important and fundamental aspects of biology together with key issues in human health.

“The new facility provides a step change in capacity for our diffraction studies providing new opportunities to tackle the most difficult of biological problems and to progress translational research in the Drug Discovery Unit,” said Professor William Hunter in the College of Life Sciences.

Knowledge of the structural models generates understanding of how a molecule can contribute to a biological process or reveals the chemical interactions that are critical for an activity, for example of how a drug might work or be improved.

The grant, awarded to Professors Hunter, Daan van Aalten, David Lilley, Tom Owen-Hughes and Paul Wyatt will support a wide range of projects – from the most challenging studies on nucleic acid structures, multi-protein complexes and enzymes that inform on basic aspects of biology to the characterisation of protein ligand complexes that support medicinal chemistry and drug discovery efforts, that is translational research.

“The development adds significant value to our existing funding from The Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council, Cancer Research UK and The European commission FP7 Aeropath project,” said Professor Hunter.  

“We are all delighted with and very grateful to the Wellcome Trust for their support for our research plans, and with the commitment shown by colleagues and collaborators in the College of Life Sciences, in particular our Dean, Professor Mike Ferguson, to establish this capability.”

The crystallographic research in Dundee is broad in scope and includes studies on the basic mechanisms of how genetic information, stored in nucleic acid structure, is maintained, manipulated and transferred, and of how enzymes regulate complex signalling pathways; both areas that advance understanding in cancer research. The characterisation of enzymes that carry out unusual chemical reactions or that represent drug targets in microbial infections caused by parasites (African sleeping sickness), fungi (Aspergillosis) and bacteria (E. coli, Pseudomonas, MRSA) represents a major area of work together with studies on what protein secretion properties support virulence and infection.

Professor Ferguson, Dean of Research at the College of Life Sciences, said, “I congratulate my colleagues on getting this great facility set up so they, and their collaborators, can benefit from state-of-the-art technology. X-ray crystallography is at the heart of both fundamental and translational biology and I know this co-investment by the Wellcome Trust and the College of Life sciences will pay dividends.”

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

 

LIFE SCIENCES AT DUNDEE

With more than 1000 scientists, research students and support staff form 58 countries and external funding in excess of £30 million per year, the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee is one of the largest and most productive Life Sciences research institutes in Europe. Consistently voted one of 'the best places for a life scientist to work' by The Scientist magazine, the College has an international reputation for its basic and translational research and was recognised in the 2011 Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Excellence with Impact Awards for `Greatest Delivery of Impact'.

 

The University of Dundee is the central hub for a multi-million pound biotechnology sector in the east of Scotland, which now accounts for 16% of the local economy.

 

University researchers collaborate with many of world's major pharmaceutical companies in the fight against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, inherited skin diseases, Huntington's disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

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