MRC PPU News
Diabetes UK Grant Awarded
31 December, 2002

Tricia Cohen has been awarded a grant of £135,435 from January 2003 until December 2005 from Diabetes UK to investigate the roles of the glycogen-targeting subunits of protein phosphatase 1 in the action of insulin and the development of impaired glucose tolerance and obesity.

Non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) is characterised by impaired glucose tolerance and is associated with other pathological conditions of insulin resistance and obesity. Several studies indicate that insulin stimulated glycogen synthesis is impaired in NIDDM. Genetic variants of the skeletal muscle glycogen-bound protein phosphatase 1, a key enzyme in the activation of glycogen synthesis, have been associated with diabetes and insulin resistance in some human populations. Tricia and her team have engineered a strain of mice, defective in this enzyme. The purpose of the project is to examine the nature of the genetic factors that predispose to the increased weight gain, impaired glucose tolerance and obesity observed in this strain in later life and the sequence of events leading to these abnormalities.




 

A Hat-Trick for Dario
31 December, 2002

Dario Alessi, from the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit, has been awarded a Pfizer Academic Award - his third award this year.

The Academic Awards are made based on work published in the previous two years that is novel and leading in its field. Dario is one of only four receipients of a £12,000 award this year, for his groundbreaking work in the fight against diabetes and leads a research team in biochemical studies of insulin-regulated signal transduction pathways.

Dario was most recently awarded Royal Society of Edinburgh's Makdougall Brisbane prize for his discovery and characterisation of PDK1, the "missing link" in insulin signal transduction, and the Young Investigator G.B. Morgagni Prize 2002 for outstanding achievements in the field of metabolism.




 

Philip Leverhulme Award
17 October, 2002

Dario Alessi, of the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit, has rounded off an extraordinary year by winning the sixth high profile award of his career and the fourth this year.

Dario secured a highly prestigious Philip Leverhulme Award - one of only 24 awards made annually, and will use his £50,00 prize money to design chemical compounds to generate drugs that target PDK1. In collaboration with his colleague Daan van Aalten, Dario mapped the atomic structure of PDK1, and this information will enable the design of drugs to specific parts of it. Five years ago Dario discovered PDK1, which controls both the growth of cells and how they respond to insulin.

The Leverhulme Trust provides £25 million each year to promote research of originality and significance principally in the university sector across a full span of disciplines.




 

Bristol-Myers Squibb Award
1 October, 2002

Philip Cohen has been awarded the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award in Metabolic Research for his work on diabetes.

The award recognises his leading role in identifying how insulin accelerates the conversion of glucose into glycogen, the major storage form of glucose in the body.

Philip is the first non-American to receive this award, and will be presented with the cash prize of $50,000 and a commemorative silver medallion at a gala dinner to be held in his honour on 16 October in New York. Philip will present a lecture at the Bristol Myer Squibb Facility in New Jersey on 17 October.

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Unrestricted Biomedical Research Grants Program that provides the Metabolic Award was initiated in 1977. The programme is celebrating its 25th year, reaching the milestone of $100 million in no-strings-attached funding in six biomedical research areas, including cancer cardiovascular, infectious diseases, metabolic diseases, neuroscience and nutrition.




 

The Scientist magazine features MRC Unit Director’s publication as a “Hot Paper”
30 September, 2002

A paper published by Philip Cohen and his colleagues in the October 2000 issue of the Biochemical Journal (Davies et al, (2000) Biochem, J., 307, 95-105) is featured as a “Hot Paper” in the 2 September 2002 issue of The Scientist magazine (Volume 16, Issue 17) which is published by the Philadelphia-based Institute for Scientific Information (ISI).

The featured paper has already been cited 205 times, less than two years after it was published (Hot Papers are defined as those which are cited 50-100 times more often than the average paper of the same type and age).

The paper analyses the specificities of 28 commercially available inhibitors of protein kinases and lays out guidelines for validating the data obtained from the use of kinase inhibitors. The information in the paper has turned out to be extremely valuable to other scientists trying to decide whether compounds purported to be specific inhibitors of protein kinases in Company catalogues are any good or not. Many of the compounds tested turned out to be absolutely hopeless! Since publication of the paper, Philip has been deluged with letters thanking him for publishing this information and messages from others noting that “It’s a pity you didn’t publish this paper a couple of years ago, it would have saved me wasting a lot of time.”

Read the commentary on Philip’s paper here




 

Tay Swimmers
12 August, 2002
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L-R: Irene Blair, Andrew Morris, Liz Downes, Dario Alessi, Finlay Currie and Vincent Henry

It was a beautiful night on 12 August 2002, when six fearless volunteers swam from Tayport Harbour to Broughty Ferry, to raise funds for Diabetes UK

The swimming team all have a connection with diabetes: Irene Blair has diabetes, Liz Downes has relatives with diabetes, Finlay Curry is a GP, Vincent Henry is the son of Delia Henry, Diabetes UK National Manager for Scotland, Andrew Morris is a diabetes consultant and Dario Alessi is an insulin research scientist.

The swimmers hope to have raised over £1000 for the charity.




 

Nimesh Mody's Maggie's Fundraising - update
24 July, 2002

The Hike Itself:

• 24th November to 3rd December 2001.
• Participants: 68 from around Scotland plus 2 from Maggie’s Centre.
• Distance covered: 140 km over 5 full days & 2 half days (around 20 km/day).
• Walked in 4 groups of about 16 with 2 guides per group (one from Britain & one local) plus 2 doctors on rotation.
• Daytime temperature: 30-40 deg Celsius.
• Personal injuries: none.
• Injuries to others: plenty (millions of blisters, heat exhaustion, dehydration, sun-burn, inflammed achillies and even groin cramps!!!).
• Serious casualities: none.
• Slept in tents, ate fantastic food, only carried a day pack consisting of first-aid kit, camera, 3-litres of water and sweeties. Our main pack was transported around from camp to camp.
• Money raised personally: £2725.
• Total money raised after expenses: £125,000. Thank you very much.

How the money was raised:

• A sponsored dare. I wore a bikini for an evening at a cocktail/beach party (£135 raised - thanks Claire)
• A very successful cake sale (£200 in 1 hour of frantic sales)
• A (very generous) £135 donation from Sir Philip Cohen
• £50 from Upstate Discovery/Argonex
• £100 Fisher Scientific
• £50 Bio-Rad
• A second cake sale yesterday (23rd July)
• A ‘Salsa Night’ at Raffles Bar, Perth road (about £350 raised)
• A Pub Crawl selling tickets for the "Grand Raffle" (£100 approx worth of tickets sold).
• The Grand Raffle (about £350 raised).
• Garland Cafe loose change collection (£80 raised).
• School of Life Sciences Golf tournament collection (£60 raised. Thank you Calum).
• Charity football tournament
• Many, many more personal donations of various sizes (£520 raised. Thank you all)

A BIG thank you to everyone who has helped to raise so much!




 

MRC PPU Director named as the world's second most highly cited scientist in the fields of biology and biochemistry
31 May, 2002

Sir Philip Cohen ranked second of the 561,800 biologists and biochemists who published research papers over the ten years between 1992 and 2002. During this period, his research papers were cited 14,186 times, according to the Philadelphia based Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). He comes in only a few hundred citations behind Professor Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University, North Carolina, US in first place, but nearly 1,500 citations ahead of Professor Roger Davis of the University of Massachusetts, the scientist in third spot.

The May issue of The Scientist published by ISI will carry a commentary by Sir Philip, which reviews the major advances that he and his colleagues have made to our understanding of how insulin works.

Other scientists with a Dundee connection to be commonly cited include Dr Dario Alessi, also of the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit, who holds 44th place. Dr Peter Parker who carried out his postdoctoral training in Dundee with Sir Philip from 1979-1982 occupies 60th place. The 69th spot was claimed by Professor Jim Woodgett, who completed his PhD Degree at Dundee from 1981-1984, also under Sir Philip's supervision. Dr Parker now heads a research group at the London Research Institute of Cancer Research UK, while Professor Woodgett is based at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Commenting on the announcement, Sir Philip said, "I have been appearing in ISI lists for 30 years and was the 126th most cited scientist in the world between 1973 and 1984 and 66th between 1981 and 1988. It is therefore gratifying to see I am still moving up the "pop chart" of science! Citation data must always be treated with caution, because scientists working in large fields of research, such as my own, will always be more highly cited than scientists carrying out equally or more important research in smaller fields. Nevertheless, it is pleasing to see that so many scientists have referred to my work in their own publications.

"It is remarkable that Dario Alessi is so high. At 35, he must be far and away the youngest in the top 200. It is also great to see that some of the people who trained with me many years ago, like Peter Parker and Jim Woodgett, are now making their own significant impact on the field. To be in the top 100 is remarkable, because anyone in the top 5,000 ranks among the top 1% of most quoted scientists. The release of this information by ISI can only enhance the reputation of our MRC Unit as one of the best places in the world to be trained and to carry out excellent science."




 

Graham Rena Wins Prize at Meeting on Insulin
31 May, 2002

Graham Rena, a postdoc in Philip Cohen's Group, won the prize for the best talk by a Younger Scientist at a meeting on Insulin held at Grassmere in the Lake District in North West England from May 22nd-24th 2002. The meeting, organised by the Rank Prize Funds Foundation, featured 40 minute talks by well-known Investigators and an equal number of 20 minute talks by graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and junior Group Leaders. The award, worth £250 (US$360) was made by the organising committee, consisting of Sir Philip Randle (Oxford), Profession Steven O'Rahily (Cambridge) and Dr Malcolm Peaker (Director of the Hannah Research Institute).




 

£15 million Pharmaceutical Collaboration
31 March, 2002
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Co-directors of the DSTT, Philip Cohen and Pete Downes

The MRC PPU have announced the renewal of their major collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry.

Agreement has been reached with six of the world's major pharmaceutical companies (AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim International GmbH, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Co Inc. (USA), Merck KGaA (Germany) and Pfizer) to renew support of the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT). The aim of this research collaboration is to facilitate the development of improved drugs to treat cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other serious diseases that target two classes of regulatory enzyme termed protein kinases and protein phosphatases. The companies will provide funding of more than £15 million over five years - almost double the amount awarded for the previous five years. This is thought to be one of the largest collaborations ever reached between the pharmaceutical industry and a UK research institution.




 

Sheelagh crosses the road
29 March, 2002

Sheelagh Frame, a Postdoctoral Researcher who worked in both the DSTT and the MRC Unit, left the Unit on the 29th March 2002 after spending 3 years here. Sheelagh has decided to re-enter the biotechnology sector (having worked in Onyx Pharmaceuticals, San Francisco prior to joining the Unit), but is not venturing quite as far afield, having accepted a position in Cycacel Ltd, which is located across the road from the Unit.

While in the Unit, Sheelagh worked in a number of research areas and has recently been helping to shed light on the functions of the enzyme glycogen synthase kinase 3. To mark Sheelagh's departure from the Unit, a party and presentation took place in the Queen's Hotel, Dundee on the 27th March 2002. We wish Sheelagh every success in her new appointment.




 

Unit Laboratory Expansion Opens
25 March, 2002

A brand-new laboratory complex has just been opened next to the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT) on the first floor of the MSI-WTB Complex. The laboratory houses the research group of Professor Tricia Cohen and is shared with that of Dr John Lucocq, a Programme Leader in the School of Life Sciences, who has important collaborations with the Unit. The majority of the £450,000 required to construct and fully equip the 185 square metres of new laboratory area and office space was paid for by the commercial income of the Unit.

To celebrate the opening, a reception was held in the office space adjoining the main laboratory. The reception was attended by members of the new laboratory and other Unit members who played key roles during the designing and construction of the laboratory.




 

Calum "Goes West"
17 March, 2002

Calum Sutherland, a Wellcome Career Development Fellow who has been running his research group within the MRC Unit over the past 5 years, has been appointed to a Lectureship in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Dundee's Medical School located at Ninewells Hospital, two miles west of the MRC Unit on the main campus. Calum, who obtained his PhD with Philip Cohen in 1994, took up his new position on 17 March 2002, but expects to maintain close contacts with the Unit through his work in the areas of insulin signalling and diabetes.




 

Lehninger Memorial Lecturer
13 March, 2002

Philip Cohen gave the 7th annual Lehninger Lecture at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore on March 12th 2002. Held in honour of one of the world's most famous bioenergeticists, Albert Lehninger (1917-1986) is most widely known for writing the first really comprehensive textbook of biochemistry that was the standard volume for most of the world's undergraduate biochemistry courses in the 1970s and early 1980s. The lecture was attended by Albert's daughter who flew down from Boston for the day.




 

Alfonso Mora awarded Postdoctoral Fellowship
1 March, 2002

Alfonso Mora, working in the group of Dario Alessi in the Unit, has been awarded a prestigious Postdoctoral Fellowship by the Spanish Ministry for Culture and Sport. This Fellowship will fund Alfonso’s work for two years to work on conditional PDK1 knockout mice. Alfonso was the only person in Extremurda, the region of Spain from which he comes, to be awarded this Fellowship.




 

Youngest Fellow
1 March, 2002

Dario Alessi has been elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. At the age of 34 Dario is one of the youngest scientists to have received this accolade. The Royal Society of Edinburgh is one of the world's oldest scientific societies and was founded in the late eighteenth century by legendary figures that included the physicist James Clerk Maxwell and the author Robert Louis Stevenson.




 

Dario Alessi Wins the Makdougall Brisbane Prize
1 March, 2002

Dario Alessi, Programme Leader in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit has been awarded the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Makdougall Brisbane prize for his discovery and characterisation of PDK1, the "missing link" in insulin signal transduction.

Founded in 1855 by a former President of the Society, it is awarded every two years with preference given to a person under the age of 40 working in Scotland. It is only awarded once every six years for research in the Biological Sciences.

Dario will receive a medal and cheque for £250 (US$360) at the Society's Research Awards reception on July 2nd in Edinburgh. The award keeps the medal in Dundee, Professor Michael Ferguson of the School of Life Sciences at Dundee having received the same award six years ago.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh is one of the world's oldest Scientifc Societies, being founded in 1780 by legendary figures in science and literature, such as the physicist James Clerk Maxwell and the author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson.




 

International Award for Dario Alessi
1 March, 2002

Dario has also just been awarded the Young Investigator G B Morgagni Prize for 2002, which consists of a silver medal and $8000. This prize is conferred every 2 years for a researcher under 40 years of age for "outstanding achievements in the field of metabolism". The award ceremony will take place at the 8th European Symposium on Metabolism held in Padova, Italy between October 2-5th of 2002. Padova is the home town of Giovanni Battista Morgagni a famous Italian anatomist and pathologist who lived from 1682-1771.




 

Second MRC Predoctoral Fellow
1 March, 2002
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David Komander

For the second consecutive year we have successfully secured one of the new highly prestigious Predoctoral Fellowships offered by the Medical Research Council (MRC). David Komander will join the groups of Daan van Aalten and Dario Alessi in June 2002 in a collaborative project to determine the structure of PDK1. David has just graduated from the University of Bochum in Germany with a top class biochemistry degree. He has performed some outstanding research in the laboratory of Daan van Aalten during his diploma thesis which has been submitted for publication. The Predoctoral Fellowship scheme is a new £1million initiative from the MRC launched in October 2000 introducing salaried stipends to outstanding PhD students in MRC Units and Institutes. Only 13 were awarded in 2001 for the whole of the UK.




 

John Rouse Becomes Programme Leader
1 March, 2002

John Rouse, who obtained his PhD with Philip Cohen in 1996, is rejoining the Unit in October 2002 as a Programme Leader. For the past six years John has been a Postdoctoral Fellow with Professor Steve Jackson at the Wellcome/CRC Institute in Cambridge, England. His group will study the protein kinases that control the DNA damage checkpoint.




 

Former Unit Student Awarded Fellowship
1 March, 2002

Dr Hilary Snaith who obtained her PhD with Tricia Cohen in 1996 has been awarded a Fellowship from the Royal Society of Edinburgh to work on mechanisms underlying cellular polarity in fission yeast.




 

Former MRC Unit Postdoc Launches New Company
1 March, 2002

Axel Knebel who, until recently, was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Philip Cohen’s group, has set up a new company called Kinasource, which aims to exploit commercially the new method for identifying substrates of protein kinases (termed KESTREL, EMBO Vol 20, No 16, pp 4360-4369, 2001) that he developed in Philip’s lab. The new company will be based on the 4th floor of the Medical Sciences Institute at Dundee for the next 15 months before moving to other premises in the city.




 

Simon Dowler successfully defends thesis
23 January, 2002
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Simon Dowler

Simon Dowler, a student with Dario Alessi, presented a seminar entitled "Cloning and characterisation of novel Pleckstrin homology domain-containing proteins" on 23rd January 2002 and was then examined by Dr. Len Stephens (The Babraham Institute, Cambridge) and Dr Kees Weijer (University of Dundee). Simon is now working for Biofocus, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, UK.