A Scottish Biomolecular Scientist has been granted a triumverate of awards which will enable him to continue his work in tackling ‘superbugs’ such as Salmonella and E-coli.
Dr James Naismith’s work at the University of St Andrews has been recognised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Wellcome Trust and the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) with awards and grants which will allow him to focus full- time on research, and make exchange visits between fellow pathogenic bacteria specialists in Canada and the US.
Dr Naismith, based at the University’s £9m Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, specialises in the synthesis of carbohydrates (sugars) in pathogenic bacteria, or disease-causing organisms, such as E. coli, Salmonella and TB.
Because bacteria die or become harmless without such carbohydrates, the study of carbohydrate synthesis is vital in finding ways to block this process, effectively disabling these harmful diseases.
A combination of chemical, structural and molecular biology and protein crystallography techniques will be used to identify the proteins at work in synthesising these carbohydrates. By identifying the exact shape and surface contours of these proteins, molecules can be designed to fit in the surface of the protein to stop it from working.
As part of his ongoing research into carbohydrates in pathogenic bacteria, Dr Naismith heads up a consortium involving fellow specialists based in England, Canada and America.
Building on the group’s progress over the past three years, The Wellcome Trust have awarded a further £18k to fund exchange visits between labs over the next three year period. The consortium consists of fellow carbohydrate chemistry specialists based at the University of Guelph, Ontario, the University of Fort Collins, Colorado, and the University of East Anglia.
The aim of the consortium is to exchange techniques from different research programmes in order to enable them to develop new therapies.
“The money awarded to us by the Wellcome Trust is crucial, as we simply wouldn’t be able to do it without funding. It allows mobility between labs, which is crucial in making the science quicker and better. By working with other labs, we are tying in different areas of expertise in aiming to develop a better understanding of human pathogens,” said Dr Naismith.
While Dr Naismith and his team of 15 researchers at St Andrews specialise in a range of pathogens, their counterparts in Colarado focus on tuberculosis, while the Ontario group studies Salmonella and E-coli.
The St Andrews biological scientist is one of only six this year to receive a BBSRC Research Development Fellowship, an award designed to enable UK university academic staff to devote themselves full-time to independent research. They’re targeted at those most likely to progress to the highest level in their field.
Dr Naismith was awarded a Fellowship to study how carbohydrates pass through bacterial cell walls. Shortlisted and interviewed from a group of almost 100 applicants, Dr Naismith will receive £90,000 funding over a three year period.
In addition to the recent Fellowship, Dr Naismith has been awarded the RSC’s Carbohydrate Chemistry Award – a prestigious biennial award for the researcher deemed to have made the most significant contribution in the field of carbohydrate chemistry. Dr Naismith was recognised particularly for his contribution to the field of carbohydrate synthesis in pathogenic bacteria. He will receive £500 and a commemorative medal, and as part of the award, has been invited to deliver a special lecture to the RSC next Spring.
“I’m delighted with this award,” he said. “It’s particularly nice to have the recognition of one’s peers.”
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