Scientists get £4m to develop ‘designer bacteria’

As reported by Pharma Express, scientists at the University of Glasgow have received £4m from the UK Government to help them develop ‘designer bacteria’.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has distributed funds through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council with the overall aim of making the UK a world leader in research and application of synthetic biology.

The cash boost will be invested to help scientists and researchers in the Institute of Molecular, System and Cell Biology to develop tools for the production of useful strains of micro-organisms. The Glasgow scientists will use a family of enzymes called recombinases which act as molecular ‘scissors and glue’ for DNA. These will allow the researchers to cut the strands at precisely defined positions and ‘paste’ a new sequence into the gap. The researchers will also use the technology to ‘teach’ cells to count and keep a record of the number they have counted up to in their DNA.

The £4m for the project, which is being led by Prof Stark and his colleagues Dr Sean Colloms and Dr Susan Rosser, will also fund researchers at Aberdeen, York and Nottingham Universities.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said, “Synthetic biology could provide solutions to the global challenges we face and offers significant growth opportunities in a range of important sectors from health to energy. However, the commercialisation of basic science is largely untapped. This investment will help to ensure that academics and industry can realise its full potential.”


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Glasgow scientists receive £4m to develop ‘designer bacteria’   Glasgow scientists receive £4m to develop ‘designer bacteria’   Glasgow scientists receive £4m to develop ‘designer bacteria’   Glasgow scientists receive £4m to develop ‘designer bacteria’


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£90m lab opens in Glasgow

As reported on The Journal, A £90m laboratory facility has been opened on the site of the Southern General Hospital based in Glasgow. Work at the lab will focus on developing lifesaving genetic treatments.

Over 700 staff are employed at the new laboratory facilities including medical personnel, clinical scientists, biomedical scientists, technical assistants, administrative and clerical staff.

The state of the art laboratories will enable ground-breaking services for biochemistry, haematology, microbiology, genetics and pathology. It is hoped that analytical tests will be performed faster and new tests will be developed to aid the diagnosis of medical conditions and to develop genetic treatments.


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Dundee University receives £12 million funding for its new biomedical centre

Dundee University receives £12 million funding for its new biomedical centreThe BBC has reported that Dundee University has been awarded nearly £12m towards the completion of a centre dedicated to translating research into cures for diseases.

The new centre is the Centre for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research (CITR) which aims to reduce the costs of bringing safe new drugs to market.

This extra funding will pay for the completion of a new centre and add 180 research jobs to the 1000-plus scientists, students and support staff already employed in the college of life sciences. It is estimated that the new CITR project will cost £38 million.

Professor Pete Downes, the university’s principal and vice-chancellor, said “It will help create world-class capability and infrastructure for interdisciplinary work bringing together basic science, drug discovery, health informatics and mathematics.  This is also, of course, a very notable boost to economic development of the life sciences sector within Scotland.”


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Scientists have grown human bone from stem cells

The Telegraph has reported that scientists have succeeded in growing human bone from stem cells in a laboratory, which they claim may eventually pave the way for patients to have broken bones repaired or replaced with new ones grown outside the body.

The researchers started with stem cells taken from fat tissue. It took around a month to grow them into sections of fully-formed living human bone up to a couple of inches long.  The technology, which has been developed along with researchers at the Technion Institute of Research in Israel, uses three dimensional scans of the damaged bone to build a gel-like scaffold that matches the shape.

The first trial in patients is on course to be conducted later this year, by an Israeli biotechnology company Bonus BioGroup that has been working with academics on the technology.

Professor Avinoam Kadouri, head of the scientific advisory board for Bonus BioGroup, said: “There is a need for artificial bones for injuries and in operations…..We use three dimensional structures to fabricate the bone in the right shape and geometry. We can grow these bones outside the body and then transplant it to the patient at the right time”

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Scientists develop robotic fish to combat pollution

As reported by the BBC, European scientists have developed robotic fish which detects contamination and pollution in water.

The pollution-hunting fish is 1.5 metres long and cost £20,000 for the scientists to develop. It is fitted with sensors which pick up pollutants leaking from ships or undersea pipelines. In fact, the fish reduced the time it takes to detect pollutants from weeks to seconds. Scientists develop robotic fish to combat pollutionThe fish can communicate with each other, avoid obstacles, map their journey and transmit their data back to shore. Currently undertaking first trials in northern Spain, modifications will then be made to improve the large yellow fish.

Speaking of the pollution detecting project, Luke Speller, Senior Scientist as the research division of technology consultancy, the BMT Group stated, “The idea is that we want to have real-time monitoring of pollution, so that if someone is dumping chemicals or something is leaking, we can get to it straight away, find out what is causing the problem and put a stop to it.”

The project has part-funded by the EU and used expertise from scientists from the University of Essex and the University of Strathclyde. Further input came from the technology consultancy, the BMT Group and from the Tyndall National Institute and Thales Safare, which is a unit of Europe’s largest defence electronics group.

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Blood test made to diagnose depression in teenagers

As reported by the Press Association, scientists have successfully developed a blood test that will help diagnose depression and anxiety disorders in teenagers.

Previously, when diagnosing depression, doctors have had to rely on the patients accurate reporting of their symptoms, and their own ability to interpret those symptoms. This is particularly challenging in teenagers, whose emotions are typically very up and down at this time in their lives.

Now, scientists at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have developed the first blood test to diagnose depression and anxiety disorders. It measures a set of genetic markers which have been previously developed to diagnose depression in teenagers. The blood test can also distinguish between the different types of depression. For example it can tell the difference between a patient with major depression and a patient with depression combined with an anxiety disorder.

The study involved 28 adolescent participants between the ages of 15 and 19 – 14 of who those had major depression (they had not been clinically treated) and 14 were healthy individuals. Each of the participants were tested for 26 genetic blood markers which had been identified in previous research.  The scientists found that 18 of the 26 markers could identify those participants who had major depression and those who had both depression and an anxiety disorder.

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Scientists have found the key to staying slim could be in your genes

The Daily Mail reported that scientists have found that the key to staying slim could be in your genes.  Scientists believe they have found the ‘gluttony gene’ which fails to tell your brain when you are full.

Researchers at Georgetown School Healthcare Hub in the U.S conducted a research project using mice. In the study they found that a single gene broke down communication in the body and led to non-stop eating and rapid weight gain.

Generally after a meal, the activity of this gene transmits chemical signals down a chain of brain cells until they reach the hypothalamus, which receives the message that you are full and suppresses the appetite. However the mice which had a mutation of this gene ate twice as much as those without the mutation.

Scientists hope that identifying the gene could help with treatments for obesity which affects nearly one in four adults in the UK.

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UCB and Oxford Uni Announce New R&D Partnership

UCB Media released a press statement stating that UCB Pharma and Oxford University agreed today to collaborate on cutting-edge pharmaceutical research projects, enabling scientists from industry and academia to work together to develop innovative medicines to treat serious diseases in immunology and neurology.

The Oxford-UCB partnership will be funded by an amount of £3.6 million from UCB and will run over 3 years. A committee of UCB and Oxford University representatives will oversee the collaboration via regular meetings to look out for and monitor new projects. Between five and 10 projects will be selected for investigation over the course of the three-year agreement.

Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said: This is an exciting new partnership and I am eager to see the research that results. Partnerships between industry and academia will have an increasingly prominent role to play in the development of new drugs, therapies and medical technologies. Pooling expertise and resources is exactly what we should be doing to carry out the best research, identify the most promising new drug candidates and take them forward.

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GSK laboratory to help seek out Olympic drug cheats

As reported by London 2012, the pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline have unveiled their Anti Doping Laboratory for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The laboratory which is in Harlow, Essex will be operated by both scientists and leading experts from Kings College London. It will test 6, 250 samples throughout the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which is many more than have been tested in previous Games.

The new drug testing laboratory will employ over 1,000 staff to work within the anti-doping process, as well as 150 scientists who will carry out the testing. The team will be lead by Professor David Cowan from the Drug Control Centre at King’s College London. The laboratory will be in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, said: ‘As a science-based organisation, GSK is well placed to help deliver the scale and cutting edge technology required to run an operation like the anti-doping facility for London 2012.

‘We have worked with King’s to put systems in place to enable this laboratory to test more samples than any previous Games and at the same time developing a blueprint for doping operations at future Games.’

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North East scientists develop five a day fruit and veg test

As reported by The Journal Live, Scientists at the universities of Aberystwyth and Newcastle have developed a simple urine test to check whether or not patients are eating the recommended five portions of fruit and veg per day.

The prototype urine test can reveal what patients have been eating over the past week by identifying chemical fingerprints of substances that have been created by different foods. So far, chemical fingerprints have been found food fruit and veg such as raspberries, orange juice and broccoli.  The team of scientists believe that soon each food group will be identifiable and that a dip stick test will be available within the next five years.

Speaking of the test, Professor John Draper who lead the team of scientists at Aberystwyth university stated, “It should mean that for the first time researchers will be able to say for certain which items of food help protect against specific diseases, and those that can seriously increase the chance of getting a particular disease.”

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Scientists grow sperm in the laboratory

As reported by The Telegraph, scientists in Germany and Israel have been able to grow mouse sperm in the laboratory.

The team of scientists were lead by Professor Stefan Schlatt at Muenster University were able to grow sperm cells in a laboratory dish using germ cells – the cells in the testicles that are responsible for sperm production.

This incredible breakthrough could enable infertile men to father their own children. Speaking of the discovery, Stephen Gordon, a leading NHS male infertility consultant stated, “Infertile men naturally want to be the father of their child but at present have to accept that can’t happen. With the mouse discovery, that could now be a possibility.”

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UK scientists investigate the science of sprouts

As reported by The Telegraph, young scientists in the UK are investigating why it is that some people hate the taste of the Christmas dinner staple, the Brussels sprout.

Budding scientists at Cornwell’s Eden Project will be testing their DNA to find out whether or not they have a genetic variation of a certain gene which makes a chemical within Brussels sprouts taste particularly bitter.  Luckily for them, those who don’t have this mutation (it is thought that this is about half the world’s population) don’t taste the bitterness at all, meaning they can take full advantage of the nutritional goodness of the good old sprout.

This national programme is being run for the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres (ADC) and is supported by the Wellcome Trust. The project aims to give young scientists some hands-on experience of working with DNA.

Talking of the programme, John Ellison, head of education strategy at Eden Project, said: “These workshops use Brussels sprouts and our own DNA to show how humans and plants have evolved together.

“The Eden Project provides the context to connect molecular biology with rainforest research into the plant diversity which is vital for future survival.”

Enjoy your sprouts and Merry Christmas!

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Scientists transform skin cells into immune cells

As reported by the BBC, Scientists at Oxford University have transformed skin cells into immune cells.

This discovery, which was made in the laboratory has sparked hopes that one day cancer patients’ own skin could be used to help fight their tumours.

The research focused on dendritic cells which are key in organising the immune response as they tell the immune system where to attack by showing identifying markets or antigens.

This study has strengthened previous research by Cancer Research UK as Dr Caeutano Reis e Sousa, and immunology expert, explains, “By showing that normal body cells can be reprogrammed to become a sub-type of dendritic cells with superior activity, this research builds on previous work by Cancer Research UK scientists using blood stem cells as starting material.”

Now this exciting discovery has been made, the real challenge now is to establish whether or not these cells which were made in the lab, can be used for cancer treatments in the clinic.

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Artificial blood may be made on an industrial scale

As reported by the Daily Mail, artificial blood developed by UK scientists could soon be produced on an industrial scale.

The scientists, working from Edinburgh and Bristol University have successfully created millions of red blood cells from stem cells (these are taken from the bone marrow). Scientists know that cells taken from human embryos are most easy to multiply in large numbers. However, researchers have not yet managed to create realistic blood.

Once an effective technique has been developed, this artificial blood will be free from disease and could be given to anyone, regardless of their blood group. Scientists believe that this will improve blood transfusions by preventing hospital shortages. The artificial blood is also hoped to save many lives at road traffic accidents, during surgery and at war.

However, many do not agree with technique of extracting stem cells from human embryos in order to advance medical science. Therefore, as Mr Turner from the Wellcome Trust highlights,  ‘There is a lot of regulatory framework to ensure that the cells are being treated with the appropriate respect and being used for genuine scientific and medical reasons and not in a trivial fashion.’

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A New Way of Delivering Drugs to the Brain

As reported by the BBC, scientists at the University of Oxford have developed a breakthrough way of delivering drugs to the brain.

One of the main challenge when it comes to diseases of the brain is getting treatment across the blood-brain barrier and it is hoped that this new development could be key in treating diseases such as Parkinson’s, Muscular Dystrophy and Alzheimer’s.

The team of scientists at the University of Oxford used exosomes from mouse dentritic cells to cross that barrier. Studies found a 60% reduction in gene’s activity and it is hoped that the method could be modified to treat other conditions across the body. Lead Researcher, Dr Matthew Wood stated,  “We are working on sending exosomes to muscle, but you can envisage targeting any tissue. It can also be made specific by changing the drug used.”

Research will now test the treatment on mice with Alzheimer’s and see if their condition changes. It is hoped that trials will begin on human patients within  five years.

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GSK to Pay Trainee Tuition Fees

As reported by The Telegraph, The global pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), is to pay up to £27,000 university tuition fees for 50 to 100 of their graduate trainees. They are the first company to announce help recruits in this way.

The company’s chief executive, Andrew Witty announced the news on Sky News. He stated that the scheme was not restricted to scientists, chemists and pharmacists, but will also be available to lawyers, economists and all of the other top class graduates that could help the pharmaceutical company.  He said, “The biggest reason we are doing this is that we want to get the absolute best possible graduates we can to work for GSK,” he told the programme. This is a great way for us to try and ensure we get that next brilliant scientist.”

As of next year, university tuition fees will triple for undergraduates so this is great news for budding scientists who are interested in working in the Pharmaceutical industry.

It is hoped that the announcement of GSK’s scheme will will encourage other companies to follow suit and help their recruits with crippling tuition fees. Thus ensuring that potential top talent will continue with their education.

GSK’s programme will costs them around £3 million per year and trainees will be required to stay with the company for several years until the fees have be repaid.

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Have Scientists Found a Cure for the Common Cold?

Have Scientists Found a Cure for the Common Cold?As reported by the BBC News, scientists at the Medical Research Council have found that antibodies can pass into cells and fight viruses from within, meaning the common cold could soon be a thing of the past.

This new discovery, by Dr Leo James transforms our previous understanding of our immunity to viral diseases such as the common cold. It ultimately shows that antibodies are able to enter cells, and once inside, can trigger a response. This response it led by a protein called TRIM21 which pulls the virus into a disposal system used by the cell to get rid of unwanted material.

Researchers believe this process happens rapidly – even before the viruses can harm the cell.

Dr James said: “Doctors have plenty of antibiotics to fight bacterial infections but few antiviral drugs.  Although these are early days, and we don’t yet know whether all viruses are cleared by this mechanism, we are excited that our discoveries may open multiple avenues for developing new antiviral drugs.”

Sir Greg Winter, deputy director of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said: “This research is not only a leap in our understanding of how and where antibodies work, but more generally in our understanding of immunity and infection.”

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Scientists Grow Human Livers in Lab

Scientists Grow Human Livers in LabAs reported by The Telegraph, scientists have created ‘working livers’ the size of a walnut, which were found to function normally in laboratory conditions.

It is hoped the process will be one day be up-scaled and moved from the lab to the hospital, taking us one step closer to solving the transplant shortage.

Speaking of the new development, Associate Professor Shay Soker of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, stated, “We are excited about the possibilities this research represents, but must stress that we’re at an early stage and many technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients.”

“Not only must we learn how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients, but we must determine whether these organs are safe to use in patients.”

Over 600 liver transplants take place each year in the UK, but unfortunately, it is estimated that more than a fifth of patients die waiting for their procedure. The problem is alleviated due to the fact that many livers have to be discarded as they are too old or damaged to be of any use.

Sarah Matthews, of the British Liver Trust, said: “Technology such as this is much needed. Currently supply isn’t meeting demand, and for every one person who receives a liver transplant, 10 people die.

“Expanding waistbands and heavy drinking habits are having an impact on the quality of donor organs available in the UK, therefore we desperately need developments in liver science. We are encouraged by these results but would also like to warn patients that this technology is a good few years off from becoming available,” she said.

The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Boston.


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Scientists Protest against Funding Cuts

NewsAs reported by Chemistry World, scientists rallied outside the UK Treasury on Saturday to protest against the government’s plans to slash research funding in order to tackle the budget deficit.

The protest was planned by campaign group, Science Vital, and was in response to a comment by Vince Cable, business secretary stating that 45 per cent of research grants in the UK went towards research that was not considered ‘excellent’, as a result he said that budgets would have to be squeezed.

Over 25,000 protestors have now signed the Science is Vital petition which calls on government not to reduce science funding as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which in a week and a half’s time will reveal the government’s spending plans for the next four years.

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Funding Cuts Could Destroy UK’s Chances of Becoming a Science World Leader

Female researcher looking into a microscope and writing notes atAs reported by the Guardian, cuts to science funding and a cap on immigration could hit research institutions hard – potentially preventing them from recruiting the best possible scientists. As a result the UK’s potential as a world leader could be destroyed.

Andy Haines, Vice Chancellor of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine stated, “The immigration cap, certainly in my institution, appears to be affecting the overseas students that we’re getting and it’s very serious that it’s coming particularly at the time when we’re potentially financially challenged. It’s misguided to impose an immigration cap, particularly on bona-fide institutions, when actually we’re generating resources for the UK. The students that we train go on to benefit their own countries and our economy. We need to maintain a reputation as a destination for the very highest fliers in the world and if we have arbitrary caps on recruitment of staff from overseas, this will impair that mission.”

These comments came in response to a government briefing organised by the Campaign for Science and Engineering and came a day after the chair of the House of Lords science and technology committee warned of a drain of science talent in the UK.

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