Scientists at the University of St Andrews have been awarded a share of over £3.5m funding to find ways of improving the health of the people of Scotland.
The new studies will be funded by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council to continue research into finding cures for ‘superbugs’, to further develop insights into detecting and managing diseases such as cancer and to research a radically new concept in information technology, which could deliver world-wide benefits for the healthcare, education and business sectors.
The funding will also see St Andrews create the most modern basic research facility in Britain for combating ‘superbugs’.
The money, part of SHEFC’s Strategic Development Research Grants will fund three separate projects involving researchers from St Andrews – the Scottish Structural Proteomics Facility, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Medical Photonics and the Research Consortium in Speckled Computing.
The Scottish Structural Proteomics Facility will combat disease causing organisms (or bugs) including MRSA and streptococcus, while the Interdisciplinary Centre for Medical Photonics will develop novel optical systems which will be used to gain new insights into disease detection and management. Both facilities will be led by St Andrews in collaboration with the University of Dundee. The Research Consortium in Speckled Computing will see St Andrews collaborate with the Universities of Edinburgh, Napier, Glasgow and Strathclyde.
Professor James Naismith from St. Andrews, who will direct the new Scottish Structural Proteomics Facility, said:
“Drug resistant bacteria are a blight on Scotland’s health. The Scottish Executive highlighted the need for basic research, medical research and improved clinical practice to solve this problem. With this funding we are able to establish the most modern basic research facility in Britain for this type of work.”
Proteomics is the study and analysis of protein structure and function, which is becoming quite an important science with the mapping of several genomes, including the human one, and the discovery of new proteins.
The facility, which will have individual research teams led by scientists in St Andrews and Dundee, is designed to streamline the process of drug design, from the identification of novel therapeutic targets from drug resistant bacteria to producing candidate drug leads. Proteomic analysis of drug resistant bacteria and determination of their structures by Xray crystallography will allow part of the team to work on computer- based drug design, whilst others in the facility will test compound libraries for new drugs. This approach is unique to the UK and will aid the development of new highly-automated and speedy ways of performing these experiments.
The SDRG funding will also allow for the establishment of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Medical Photonics, which aims to make a major impact on healthcare through a deeper understanding of disease detection and management using the latest in laser technology.
Advanced laser systems, already developed by researchers at St. Andrews, will be used to target genes and drugs into cells, micro- manipulate cells and chromosomes and to detect cancer cells. Novel imaging applications will also be investigated using millimetre- waves to detect cancer at an early stage using non-invasive methodologies.
The work of the Centre will be co- ordinated by a management group including Professor Wilson Sibbett and Professor Kishan Dholakia from the School of Physics & Astronomy at St Andrews, Professor Andrew Riches and Dr. Peter Bryant from the Bute Medical School and Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri from the Department of Surgery & Molecular Oncology at the University of Dundee.
The final project will see St Andrews involved in a £1.3m Research Consortium in Speckled Computing with the Universities of Edinburgh, Napier, Glasgow and Strathclyde.
Speckled computing is a radically new concept in information technology which has the potential to revolutionise computing as we know it and to give rise to a new industry for Scotland.
Speckled computing uses semiconductor specks, each the size of a grain of sand, which can sense, compute and communicate wirelessly. Specks, scattered or sprayed on objects or people, will create programmable networks called specknets. This will allow seamless linkages between the material and digital worlds and has the potential to revolutionise the way we communicate and exchange information. For instance, a specknet sprayed directly onto a patient’s chest would give doctors the capability to monitor heart performance as they go about their daily lives. A heart surgeon could monitor the vital signs of their most vulnerable patients as they go about their daily lives without cumbersome portable equipment or inconvenient appointments at the clinic.
Professor Alan Miller, Head of the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy will lead the St Andrew’s side of the project which will provide the physics and photonics aspects and will look at power sources for the computing particles (or ‘smart dust’).
NOTE TO EDITORS:
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT THE RESEARCHERS DIRECT –
Scottish Structural Proteomics Facility – Professor James Naismith – 01334 463792 Interdisciplinary Centre for Medical Photonics – Professor Kishan Dholakia – 01334 463184, Dr Peter Bryant – 01334463510; Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri 01382 492174 Research Consortium in Speckled Computing – Professor Alan Miller 01334 463122
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