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£2 million to boost critical St Andrews research

Scientists at the University of St Andrews have been awarded £2 million by the Wellcome Trust to take forward research aimed at developing new therapies to tackle drug resistant bacteria.

The major grant to Professor James Naismith and his team at the University’s Biological Sciences Research Centre (BSRC) will fund a seven-year long effort to find new weaknesses in the armour of bacteria which have become or are becoming resistant to traditional antibiotics.

The threat posed by drug-resistant bacteria such as TB, MRSA and C difficile has been identified as one of the major public health challenges facing the world.  The UK’s Chief Medical Officer recently called for increased funding for this type of research, highlighting the danger of bacterial disease to the population.

The Senior Investigator Award from the Wellcome Trust will allow Professor Naismith to continue his work on understanding how bacteria make and transport sugar polymers around.  It is these sugar polymers which prevent the human immune system from clearing bacterial infection. By studying these processes it should be possible to disrupt them.

Professor Naismith said:

“Bacteria are fantastic chemists, but humans are, by contrast, lazy.

“Yet this activity is also their weakness, because they do so much chemistry that we do not. Thus if we can stop their chemistry it would kill them, but since we do not do it, it should not affect us.

“Most antibiotics work on this simple principle, however, we urgently need to do the research to find new antibiotics for twenty years’ time.  Our work in the one small part of the sugar polymer metabolism has already led to development of novel inhibitors.

“The new projects should open up new avenues for therapies aimed at drug resistant bacteria. This grant is very ambitious and aims to understand how bacteria achieve a very difficult task. Imagine a glass with three liquid layers, the middle layer is oil that does not mix with the other two water layers. Somehow bacteria have proteins that transport sugar polymers from the bottom layer to the top layer, yet somehow they avoid exposing the polymer to the oil layer.”

Wellcome’s  Senior Investigator Awards support exceptional, world-class researchers, who hold an established academic position. They are awarded to researchers who have an international track-record of significant achievement relative to their career stage, who have demonstrated the originality and impact of their research, and who are leaders in their field.

ENDS


Notes to Editors

Professor James Naismith can be contacted on 01334 463792 or jhn@st-andrews.ac.uk

Issued by the University of St Andrews Press Office. Contact Niall Scott, Director of Corporate Communications on 01334 462244 or niall.scott@st-andrews.ac.uk
Ref: wellcometrust 140513
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