Reporter 449, 20 March 2000


Protein lab takes UK lead in technology

Researchers in the University’s Biological Sciences Faculty are about to take delivery of a suite of research equipment which may lead to major advances in the diagnosis and treatment of a large group of illnesses, including Alzheimer’s and Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.

The diseases are characterised by unusual patterns of protein formation in the body’s cells. Leeds has a substantial record of work on the analysis of protein structures - work which has outgrown the technical capabilities of the existing laboratory equipment.

The purchase of a protein sequencing and macromolecular analysis facility will enable much more accurate reading of the structure of proteins. A total investment of £740,000 is involved.

A contribution of £500,000m from the Higher Education Funding Council for England covers 70 per cent of the cost of the equipment and its running expenses, with the University adding £150,000 from strategic funds and external sponsors contributing the remainder. The HEFCE grants are provided under its Joint Research Equipment Initiative.

The equipment will support work in a range of departments - among them Biological Sciences, Chemical Sciences and Medicine - as well as in partner institutions like Leeds General Infirmary and St James’s University Hospital. Researchers say it will be a major national resource unmatched by any other UK university.

Sheena Radford, Reader in Structural Molecular Biology, was one of the applicants behind the bid. She has been looking at protein misfolding and amyloidosis - a key area in the understanding of Alzheimer’s.

In the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient, proteins will typically gather into plaques. Dr Radford is working on a series of peptides to inhibit the formation of these malformed protein blocks.

Also relevant to Alzheimer’s is research by Michael McPherson, Reader in Molecular Biology, with Professors Peter Knowles and Simon Philips, into the role of copper and oxygen in enzyme changes. The new equipment will help to isolate and analyse the proteins involved and the processes that alter them.

Professor Steve Homans is studying protein interactions in relation to infectious diseases. The new equipment will help ensure that the proteins sampled are intact and accurately measured.

Other research projects due to benefit from the initiative range from a study of how small molecules like pheromones reach their target cells to an analysis of how hepatitis viruses replicate. Proteins which may help detect renal cancer, or target drugs to treat it, are the focus of another study. See the HEFCE web site for more information www.hefce.ac.uk   More

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