University of Dundee

New CLS Division attracts highly-competitive research funding

10 Jan 2011

Professor Colin Watts Head of the New Division of Cell Signalling and Immunology has been awarded a £1.5 million Wellcome Trust Grant for research into the, 'Regulation of adaptive immunity by proteolytic systems.'

In response to the announcement Professor Watts said, “This is tremendous news to start the New Year and the inauguration of our new Division of Cell Signalling and Immunology. This £1.5 million award marks our 4th successive period of 5 year funding from the Wellcome Trust and it is particularly important to have secured this support at a time of great pressure on the availability of funding for Universities.”

CSI is the most recently formed Division at the College of Life Sciences and hosts research groups whose work is relevant to the pathologies associated with cancer, diabetes, infectious disease, autoimmunity and allergy.  A common theme that links the activities of the 10 different groups is a shared interest in the mechanisms that cells use to sense external signals such as those detected by various receptors in the immune system on the one hand and on the other, internal signals that indicate changes in cellular metabolic activity and energy status.  Remarkably, the biochemical ‘wiring’ underlying these diverse systems is often overlapping providing unexpected opportunities for collaboration among the different groups in CSI.  

With regards to the Wellcome Grant, Professor Watts continued, “This award will allow us to continue our work on a class of enzymes known as proteases. There are more than 550 genes encoding proteases in the human genome and they play many important roles in our cells and tissues. They are particularly important in immune responses, both in desirable responses to vaccines and infectious agents but potentially also in the undesirable immune responses that can lead to inflammation, allergy and autoimmune disease. 

“Our aim over the next 5 years will be to uncover new information about some of the proteases that are active in immune cells and also about another class of proteins, known as cystatins, that are thought to attenuate protease activity.  Since proteases are known to be good targets for therapeutic drugs, for example in the control of hypertension and in fighting infection by viruses such as HIV, we hope that the basic knowledge gained through this award may reveal new opportunities for drug and vaccine development to optimise useful immune responses and suppress harmful ones.

“I want to add that this substantial grant is a great tribute to the people in my lab. It is their work on this project over the past 5 years that has made this award possible.”

Deputy Head of the New Division, Professor Hari Hundal and his Divisional colleague Dr Peter Taylor have also received a BBSRC project grant of over £400,000 entitled, "Non-genomic mechanisms stabilizing the abundance of SNAT2, a nutrient transceptor protein, in response to diverse catabolic signals".

Professor Hundal noted, “It is particularly pleasing that in these difficult times we have been awarded a Research Council grant in what clearly was an extremely competitive round.”

Hari Hundal is also one of this year’s Discovery Day Lecturers. His lecture, Chewin’ the Fat – It’s a Question of Saturation!is scheduled to take place during the morning session (10:00-11:15) on Friday 14 January 2011 at the Main Lecture Theatre in the Dalhousie Building.