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Research news from BBSRC

9 October 2007

The following stories appear in the October 2007 edition of Business, the quarterly magazine of research highlights from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Turning up the heat on tropical disease
The fight against the deadly tropical disease Leishmaniasis, also known as black fever, has been boosted by scientists at the University of Durham. The scientists' new screening system has raised the possibility of new, safer drugs. Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease which the World Health Organisation estimates infects 12 million people worldwide each year. The researchers have identified and characterised a key enzyme which helps produce an essential cell component of the parasite, plus an inhibitor which specifically acts against this enzyme. This has marked implications in the search for safer Leishmaniasis drugs, which presently have many toxic side effects.
(Page 6)


Dr Paul Denny, Durham University, tel: +44 (0) 191 334 0319, e-mail:

Modelling the complexities of the immune system
A group of mathematicians have taken on the challenge of building a common model of immune responses. Their work will radically improve our understanding of the human immune system by allowing all the scientific disciplines working on it to have a common reference point and language. The research network, led by a team at the University of Leeds will devise a mathematical model that can be used by immunologists, mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists and engineers and will show how the different parts of the system work together as a whole.
(Page 8)

Dr Carmen Molína-Paris, University of Leeds, tel: +44 (0) 113 343 5151, e-mail:

Enzymologists shed light on the development of safer drugs
Scientists at the University of St Andrews have used polarised light to study an enzyme vital to controlling levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. Their method for analysing the effects of inhibitors on the enzyme has led to collaboration with AstraZeneca on the design of safer antibacterial compounds. Monoamine oxidase (MAO) enzyme inhibitors are an antidepressant but can also have toxic side-effects. The researchers' light method identified how the MOA behaves when bound to different molecules to cause different types of effects. The researchers demonstrated that different molecules induce specific types of changes in how MAO absorbs light. This tool promises to help inform drug design.
(Page 13)


Dr Rona Ramsay, University of St Andrews, tel: +44 (0) 133 446 3411, e-mail:

Harnessing the potential of plant pigments
Scientists at the John Innes Centre and the Institute for Food Research have made an important advance in understanding the genetic processes that give flowers, leaves and plants their bright colours. The knowledge could lead to a range of benefits, including better understanding of the cancer-fighting properties of plant pigments and new, natural food colourings. The researchers have pinpointed a key group of enzymes involved in the production of plant pigments, called anthocyanins. This new understanding provides a good platform for studying anthocyanins' antioxidant properties, important in the fight against cancer, cardiovascular disease and age-related degeneration.
(Page 17)

Prof Cathie Martin, John Innes Centre, tel: +44 (0) 1603 450279, e-mail:

New bioprocessing lab 'built' with BRIC
A new laboratory, dedicated to bioprocessing research, has been set up with funding from BBSRC's Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC). The laboratory at the University of Kent received £1M of funding and aims to help deliver and identify more targeted approaches for recombinant protein production and novel gene expression technologies for the biopharmaceuticals industry. Specifically, the project aims to identify key factors that presently limit the production of recombinant proteins that are essential to biomedicines such as monoclonal antibodies. Valuable results have already been obtained.
(Page 5)

Dr Mark Smales, University of Kent, tel: +44 (0) 1227 764000, e-mail:


Notes to editors

These stories all appear in the October 2007 issue of BBSRC Business. For copies please contact the BBRSC Media Office.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

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Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

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