A new £6 million lab which could lead to new treatments for ‘superbugs’ was officially opened at the University of St Andrews today (Wednesday 8th December 2004) by Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace.
The Scottish Structural Proteomics Facility (SSPF), a collaboration with the University of Dundee, is aimed at critical research that could lead to more effective medicines for dangerous infectious diseases including MRSA.
At the opening, Mr Wallace said: “This is the most modern basic research facility in Britain for drug design work. Facilities like this enable cutting edge research and are critical to ensuring Scotland can both retain home grown talent and attract top scientists from overseas.
“Diseases caused by superbugs like MRSA present major challenges to scientists and health professionals and this work is clearly of vital important to us all.
“I’m delighted therefore to open this new research lab and pleased that Executive investment – through SHEFC – has driven the project forward. The Executive recently announced record investment in our universities – we are committed to maintaining their competitive edge and ensuring they continue contributing to Scotland’s economic growth.”
With state of the art robotic equipment and the involvement of scientists from all over the world, the research centre was established to help scientists discover new drug targets and new drug compounds for a variety of microbial diseases.
Proteomics – the study and analysis of protein structure and function – is becoming an important science with the mapping of several genomes, including the human one, and the discovery of new proteins. The establishment of the centre will enable the team to discover more about proteins and enzymes, which will allow them to design more effective medicines.
In total there are 14 research groups contributing to the SSPF including scientists from Glasgow and Warwick Universities. The project will be overseen by Professors James Naismith, Malcolm White (both St Andrews) and Bill Hunter (Dundee).
Professor Naismith said: “The study of the structure of proteins is essential in the fight against drug resistant bacteria, viruses and parasites, which afflict many people in Scotland and the world.
“The UK has lagged behind in this field recently despite discovering and developing the technique in 1960s. Currently the USA, EU and Japan have major programmes in this area, which are nearly 100 times larger than the UK. SHEFC was the first government agency in the UK to recognise this technology gap and its funding was crucial to the establishing the SSPF.”
In addition to the UK scientists involved, new key personnel have been recruited in the form of several talented scientists from the US and Japan.
The facility, which has 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.
The group at the two universities will collect new findings on a database of enzymes to share with colleagues around the UK. In addition, proteomics studies of MSRA will identify new targets for antibiotic development. Viral entry into cells, and subsequent immune evasion is the first stage in viral infection and the SSPF will focus on how this process works for a variety of dangerous human viruses.
Originally funded by a development grant from SHEFC (Scottish Higher Education Funding Council), the centre – a partnership between Biomolecular Sciences at St Andrews and the Faculty of Life Sciences at Dundee – was established with money from both Universities and a £4.8m BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) grant awarded this summer.
The lab will house large-scale robotic equipment with cloning and expression technology. The flagship ‘Gateway’ technology, supplied by market-leaders Invitrogen, will allow researchers to circumvent traditional molecular cloning – the process of duplicating DNA – with maximum speed and efficiency.
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