Laying the foundations for biomedical discovery

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Education Secretary Michael Russell today (Tuesday 5 October, 2010) helped lay the foundations for a new £15 million research facility which will lead the fight against superbugs.

The University of St Andrews is positioning itself at the forefront of the battle against the deadly diseases with a state-of-the-art facility designed to promote multi-disciplinary research.

It will form part of the University’s Biomedical Sciences Research Complex (BSRC) and build upon the international science carried out in the Centre for Bio-molecular Science. The complex will lead in the study of emerging serious viral, bacterial and parasitic diseases including MRSA and C. difficile.

Education Secretary Mike Russell laying one of the first bricks for the new Biomedical Sciences Research Complex

Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, said:

“I was hugely impressed by the plans for the new complex which is taking shape rapidly.

“Once completed it will not only enhance the reputation of the University of St Andrews but, through providing world-class research facilities, will give students and staff the potential to save lives across the globe by making a major contribution in the fight against disease and infection.”

The most recent figures for infection rates show the number of C.diff and MRSA cases falling across the UK. However, as the outbreak in April this year at Perth Royal Infirmary proved, hospital infections remain a real threat.

The new research facility will help develop the knowledge to underpin new strategies to defeat superbugs, and will go even further – investigating sleeping sickness, HIV, tuberculosis and bird flu while also expanding on current work at St Andrews on the understanding of diseases such as cancer, flu and the rare genetic condition XP (xeroderma pigmentosum), whose sufferers are known as ‘children of the moon’.

The new £15 million facility has been made possible through a £5 million capital award from the Wellcome Trust. This award was the largest capital award to the University.

The education Secretary was joined by Deputy Principal and Vice-Principal (Research) Professor Christopher Hawkesworth, who commented:

“The University of St Andrews is one of the leading research-intensive universities in the world. This state-of-the-art research facility will help us to turn that strength into life-saving breakthroughs.

“By bring together scientists from Biology, Chemistry, Medicine and Physics we hope our research will inform global efforts in the fight against disease and infections. The funding awarded by the Welcome Trust recognises the excellence in St Andrews and is a great show of faith in our ability to achieve that goal.”

Professor James Naismith, Director of the BSRC, said:

“The Wellcome Trust funding was only given to teams doing the very highest impact research in biomedicine as judged by a panel of biomedical scientists from across the globe. I am delighted to see work carried out by my colleagues past and present (postgraduate students and staff) over the past ten years recognised to be amongst the best in the world. I want to stress that it is a real team effort.

“This new investment by the University and the Wellcome Trust allows us, colleagues from medicine and physics to bring our skills to bear on these serious health problems. We are all excited by this opportunity and conscious of the need to justify this support.”

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said:

“Tackling our most pressing biomedical issues, such as the emergence of so-called ‘superbugs’, requires state-of-the-art facilities. We are delighted to support the development of this new research complex at St Andrews, which will enable its scientists to conduct world-leading research in a very important area.”

Notes to News Editors

In building the Centre for Biomolecular Science in 1999 St Andrews led the UK in bringing together chemistry and biology to work on serious diseases. Many others have now followed this lead.

Already St Andrews scientists, together with colleagues at the University of Aberdeen, have worked out a key mechanism that protects bacteria against stress in a major discovery that could lead to new ways of killing superbugs C. difficile and MRSA. For more information go to: Breakthrough in fight against superbugs.

In the most recent UK (RAE), the University of St Andrews was placed second in Scotland and 14th in the UK for research, with internationally leading research recognised in all academic disciplines.

Professor Naismith is available for interview on 01334 463 792 or email [email protected].

The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. For more information go to:

Issued by the University of St Andrews

Contact: Emma Shea, Communications Manager, on 01334 462 109 or email [email protected]

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