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Video transcript: The Babraham Institute

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January 2011

Dr Michael Wakelam, Director of Babraham Institute
The BBSRC has three main themes to a Strategic Plan for Research. One of these is the basic bioscience underpinning human health. That is where Babraham science is focused. Unless we understand the basic bioscience which underpins human health then we will not be in a position to be able to understand what goes wrong in human disease.

Video shows scientist at work

So Babraham's research is split into three major themes. Firstly, there is the cellular signalling grouping, secondly the immunology grouping and thirdly epigenetics and chromatin.

Video shows images from monitors and a lab scene

In the signalling programme we are understanding how acute responsiveness occurs, for instance, in the way in which a body deals with infections. That leads into the immunology where understanding how the immune system develops, how it changes during aging for example, whereas within epigenetics and chromatin we are looking firstly at developing organisms and secondly at how the body has adapted to changes in its environment.

Professor Wolf Reik, Head of Laboratory, Babraham Institute
Epigenetics modification or changes to the DNA and the chromatin in the nucleus which make the genome experience the environment in a particular way and talk to the genome and make it function, make the organism function in a particular way. Imagine that there is about 200 or 300 different cells in the human body that all have their own unique epigenetic information and epigenome, as we call it, which is uniquely characteristic of each cell type. So there is liver cells which have a particular epigenome, there is brain cells which have another type of epigenome and the epigenome, in essence, instructs the genome to only use a particular subset of all the genes that it has in order to confer identity, be it a liver cell, be it a brain cell on the particular cells in the body.

A chart is shown, showing the different epigenetic mechanisms

For example, we know that colleagues here at the Institute have discovered that that a particular class of genes that are epigenetically regulated controls the amount of fat that the body acquires during development and after birth and later on and so it is possible that this type of epigenetic regulation underlies the develop of obesity for example later in life and perhaps alter diabetes.

Dr Michael Wakelam, Director of Babraham Institute
Babraham has a number of technologies which facilitates it work. Firstly, there are mass spectrometry methodologies which allow us here not to just look at proteins as in many places but also at lipids which are critically important in signalling processes in cells. Secondly, we have specialised systems such as phosphorescence activated cell sorters...

A phosphorescence activated cell sorter is shown

...which allow us to isolate particular populations of cells, for instance, immune cells for study.

Professor Wolf Reik, Head of Laboratory, Babraham Institute
Babraham is at the forefront of epigenetics research in Europe. It is one of the largest centres that carries out this type of research and the technology we have been able to develop here and build up through investments by BBSRC, MRC and also the University of Cambridge has really put us at the forefront of this kind of epigenomics field worldwide.

Dr Michael Wakelam, Director of Babraham Institute
Our imagine facility has a number of microscopes.

Imaging facility equipment is shown in use with some of the results shown on monitors

Particularly the confocal microscopes can be used to identify the localisation within a cell of various proteins on genes. This technology has been developed further recently to allow the examination of these cells under live conditions. This means we can look at the movement of proteins for instance within a cell when it has been stimulated. A good example of this is a neutrophil which is responding to an infection.

Video shows microscopic view of cell reacting to an infection

We can look at the movement of signalling proteins within these cells in response to the infection and see how that changes in the presence of various pharmacological inhibitors, therefore, allowing us to investigate the disease processes.

Links with companies is extremely important for Babraham science. That is because, whilst the research has its own intrinsic importance, at the end of the day it has to have a benefit for society.

Video shows an outdoor scene surveys the Babraham facility

We have a number of links with the companies in our incubators on site of which there are 32 at present. Some of these are spin-outs from Babraham science, others have chosen to locate here where they can, amongst other things, interact with and collaborate with the Babraham scientists.

Dr Mike Romanos, Chief Scientific Officer, Crescendo Biologics
Crescendo is a new biotech company established at the beginning of 2009 aiming to make new antibody based therapeutics.

Video shows a diagram with a tumor cell with different agents around it

The advantages of antibodies as therapeutic agents are that they are highly specific and they don't have the unpredictable side effects of small molecule drugs. At Crescendo we are trying to develop antibody based fragment therapeutics...

A chart of antibody based fragment therapeutics is shown

...which have those advantages but also the advantages of small molecules, in other words, topical delivery, no need for injection.

The building facilities and the estate house at Babraham are shown

The science that is the basis for Crescendo has been occurring over about 10 years here at Babraham and it has been pioneered by Drs Marianne Brugerman and Mike Towsick. The advantages of being based at Babraham are that we are living a very rich scientific environment and we are constantly tapping into the scientific expertise of the Institute. There are about 20 or 30 other companies based at Babraham and that makes it an exciting environment to be in.

ENDS