Scientists at the Universities of St Andrews and Dundee have been awarded over £1m to develop new drugs to combat eczema.
The £1.3m grant from the Medical Research Council will fund three new research posts to tackle the painful skin condition which affects one in five children in the UK and other developed countries.
Academics will study a gene called filaggrin. Almost half of all children with severe eczema have a fault in this gene which leads to inflammation of the skin.
Experts will use the funding to look for new drugs to boost sufferers’ skin barrier function. Existing drugs for the condition target the immune system, rather than tackling the root cause of the disease.
Professor Irwin McLean of Dundee University’s College of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing said, “This is a really exciting opportunity to develop new treatments aimed directly at the first major gene known to be involved in eczema and related conditions.”
Meanwhile, Dr Nick Westwood, Reader in the School of Chemistry and Centre for Biomolecular Sciences at St Andrews said, “It is great to be involved in collaborations of this type. As a result of this grant, we now have the opportunity to interface our chemical skills with world class biological research at Ninewells Hospital”.
Dr Westwood’s research is focussed at the chemistry-biology interface where he provides predominantly chemical expertise. His interest in working in multidisciplinary collaborations stems from his previous studies at the Institute of Chemistry and Cell Biology at Harvard University. Since joining the St Andrews staff in 2001 as a Royal Society University Research Fellow, Dr Westwood has been involved in a series of successful collaborations with researchers both in St Andrews, elsewhere in Scotland and further a field. In this particular project, the post-doctoral worker who will be employed in the Westwood lab will carry out a large scale synthesis of a natural compound that should help the cell to ‘read-through’ the genetic defect identified by the McLean lab. Subsequent studies will be aimed at optimising the drug-like properties of additional compounds of this type that are being identified in the laboratory of Professor Frearson (also Dundee).
Issued by Press Office, University of St Andrews
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