University of Dundee

£2.5 million MRC Senior Fellowship Award for Cancer Researcher

05 Aug 2013

Dr Victoria Cowling, of the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee, has been awarded a prestigious Medical Research Council Senior Non-Clinical Fellowship to continue her ground breaking research on how mutations in cancer genes can result in tumours forming.

The Fellowship will provide Dr Cowling, who is based in the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit (MRC-PPU) at Dundee, with £2.5million over seven years to build upon the discoveries that her research group has made over the last five years.

Dr Cowling made a major molecular discovery about how genes are regulated and how mutations in cancer genes promote unrestrained cell growth which can result in tumour formation. 

Dr Cowling’s research has revealed a completely unexpected and critical role of a chemical structure within cells called the `mRNA methyl cap’. She has shown that the mRNA methyl cap operates as a master integrator of cellular signals which drives protein production in the cell. This research has revealed a new fundamental biological process relevant to understanding how all cells regulate cell growth. Research in this area has taken on added urgency as her results suggest that mutations in several genes that cause cancer may exert their influence through methyl cap formation and function.

Dr Cowling now plans to build upon her initial discoveries to investigate how mutations in genes that drive cancers impact on the machinery that controls the methyl cap. 

“A major goal is to exploit this knowledge to develop new approaches and technology to devise future anti-cancer drugs,” said Dr Cowling. “The aim of our research is to counteract cancer-causing genes by targeting the machinery controlling the mRNA methyl cap.”

Upon receiving news of the prize Dr Cowling said, “I am very grateful to receive the MRC Senior Fellowship. This generous long-term funding gives us the freedom to pursue the most important and interesting questions and to take our research in new directions. I’d like to thank the members of my lab and other labs in Dundee for their contributions to this Fellowship.”

Professor Dario Alessi, Director of the MRC-PPU, added, “I am delighted that Vicky has been able to secure this esteemed Fellowship to pursue her important research into better understanding the fundamental mechanisms that control protein production. This is a very important area of research of great relevance to better understanding diseases such as cancer. Vicky was the only scientist in the United Kingdom to be awarded an MRC Senior Non-Clinical Fellowship in this round, an indication of the exceptionally high quality of her research.”