MRC PPU News
Philip Cohen Receives Prestigious Rolf Luft Award in Stockholm, Sweden
3 October, 2006

Sir Philip Cohen, Director of the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit, has been awarded the prestigious 2006 Rolf Luft Award, which he received on October 3rd, in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Prize was created in 2000 in honour of Rolf Luft, Sweden’s most famous endocrinologist, and is awarded by the Karolinska Institute.

Sir Philip was awarded the Prize for his ground-breaking research into the role of Protein Phosphorylation in Cell Regulation and Human Disease, especially his contributions to the understanding of how insulin regulates glucose metabolism and the implications of this research for the development of improved drugs to treat Diabetes.

Commenting on the award, Sir Philip expressed his surprise at receiving the honour. “Usually an award like this does not come as a total surprise because one knows that someone has put you forward for the prize. However, on this occasion I had no idea that I had even been nominated and still have no idea who proposed me.

“Nevertheless, it is a great honour to have received this award which I am happy to receive on behalf of the many postdoctoral researchers and Ph.D. students who helped me to understand insulin’s mode of action between the years 1973 and 1997.”

Previous winners of the award include Jeffrey Friedman of the Rockefeller University, New York, for the discovery of the appetite-controlling hormone leptin, Ronald Kahn, the Director of the Joslin Diabetes Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, for discovering the biological activity of the insulin receptor and Steven O’Rahilly, Department of Clinical Biochemistry of University of Cambridge, UK, for the identifying genes that control obesity.

Born in Stockholm in 1914, Rolf Luft made many seminal discoveries in the field of endocrinology. These included solving the problem of where androgens are made and how a lack of these hormones causes Addison’s disease, the discovery of the beneficial effect of the hormone ACTH for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and the discovery of the first disease of energy production, now called Luft’s disease.

Aged 92 and still in good health, Rolf Luft attended the Award Ceremony and Philip's lecture which was entitled “From insulin signalling to the regulation of cytokine production by pathogens.”




 

Dundee researchers nominated for top awards
1 October, 2006

Researchers at the University of Dundee have been shortlisted for three major awards at this year’s prestigious Times Higher Awards.

Professor Sir Philip Cohen, Director of the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit, is shortlisted for the Lifetime Achievement Award for the key role he has played in establishing Dundee as one of the UK’s major bio-medical research centres.

Sir Philip has been the key influence in developing the College of Life Sciences from a converted stable block with 11 scientists in 1970 to a complex that today houses almost 800 staff from 53 countries.

Sir Philip has developed and facilitated one of the largest research consortia in higher education - a £15m deal with six of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies which was awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2006.

He has developed a strategy for attracting some of the best scientists to Dundee (24 of the team leaders at the College are in the top 1% of the world's most cited scientists in their field and Sir Philip is himself the world’s 4th most cited scientist over the last 10 years in the field of biology and biochemistry). He has been instrumental in raising more than £35m over the past 10 years to enable first-class facilities to be set up in Dundee.

The discovery by a team led by Professor Irwin McLean of the gene which causes genetic skin conditions affecting millions of people has been nominated as Research Project of the Year.

Professor McLean's team, experts on genetic skin disorders, have discovered the gene that causes dry, scaly skin and predisposes individuals to atopic dermatitis (eczema). Some of these individuals also develop a form of asthma that occurs in association with eczema. The findings could have major implications for millions of sufferers worldwide.

Dr Paul Campbell, of the Division of Electronic Engineering and Physics, is shortlisted as Young Researcher of the Year. Dr Campbell has scored major research successes in the field of sonoptics, using ultrasound techniques to develop revolutionary drug delivery methods. Dr Campbell is passionate about increasing the popularity of physics as a subject, and will go to extreme lengths to get the point across - as an awareness-raising project he has undertaken to run the Marathon des Sables, a 240km race across the Sahara which is generally accepted to be the hardest footrace on earth!

This is the second year of the Times Higher Awards. At last year’s inaugural event, the University of Dundee was one of only four institutions shortlisted as Higher Education Institution of the Year.

The winners of this year’s awards will be announced on Wednesday 15th November at a ceremony at the Hilton Park Lane in London.

The awards are organised by the Times Higher Education Supplement, the country's leading education journal.




 

Andrew MacDonald awarded a Research Council UK (RCUK) grant
1 October, 2006

Andrew MacDonald, who is undertaking post-doctoral research in Simon Arthur's group, has been awarded a Research Council UK (RCUK) grant to set up his own independent laboratory at the University of Leeds in England. RCUK awards are a new initiative funded by the UK government to recruit talented individuals to undertake independent research within the UK. The fellowships are awarded competitively based on the candidate's past achievements and proposed future research project. This award will provide Andrew with a five-year tenure track position, which he intends to take up at the end of 2006.

During his time in Dundee, Andrew has utilised genetic models to analyse the role of the protein kinase in regulating immune cell development and function. In particular, Andrew has made exciting progress towards understanding the role of the ERK5 in T cell development.




 

John Rouse selected as an EMBO Young Investigator
1 October, 2006

John Rouse, who became a Programme Leader in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit at the end of 2002, has been selected by the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) as an EMBO Young Investigator - one of only twenty-one young biomedical and life scientists in Europe to receive this accolade in 2006.
The EMBO Young Investigator Programme identifies and supports outstanding European life scientists who are within four years of having established their first independent laboratories. The aim of the programme is to give prominence to talented young scientists by drawing attention to the quality of their research in order to enhance their standing in the scientific community.

The focus of John’s research is to understand how cells recognise and repair DNA damage. Normally, mutations in DNA occur at very low levels because healthy cells have a remarkable ability to detect and eliminate DNA damage. However, if not repaired, DNA damage can lead to a gradual accumulation of mutations, which underlie a wide range of human diseases including cancer.

The MRC Unit is embedded within the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee and John is the fifth Programme Leader in the College of Life Sciences to receive the EMBO Young Investigator Award since the scheme started in the late 1990’s. The previous recipients were Daan van Aalten, Anne Donaldson, Tom Owen-Hughs and, Tomoyuki Tanaka.




 

C.D. Nelson Award to Greg Moorhead
31 August, 2006
1248362321-c.d.%20nelson%20award%20to%20greg%20moorhead.jpg
Greg Moorhead receiving the award (Photo courtesy of Nicole Burkhart who holds copyright).

Congratulations to Greg Moorhead who was awarded the C.D. Nelson Award in August 2006 at the Joint Annual Meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists and the Canadian Society of Plant Physiologists in Boston. This Award recognizes young plant physiologists whose "outstanding research contributions" show "originality and independence of thought." Following postdoctoral research with Philip Cohen and then Carol MacKintosh in the MRC Unit, Greg established his own group at the University of Calgary, Canada, where his research focuses on how protein phosphatases and nutrient sensors regulate cellular processes in plants and animal systems.




 

Farewell and Welcome Dinner!
22 August, 2006
1248361604-farewell%20and%20welcome%20dinner%21.jpg
Dinner at Ostler's Close

The MRC Group Leaders send off sabbatical visitors Greg Moorhead and Pauline Douglas from the University of Alberta at Calgary, Canada, who have just spent 4 months in the Unit and welcome new sabbatical visitor Randy Brutkiewicz from Indiana University School of Medicine.

The dinner was held at The Ostlers' Close, Cupar, one of the Unit's favourite restaurants.




 

Well Done to Fabrizio!
31 July, 2006
1248362816-well%20done%20to%20fabrizio%21.jpg
Fabrizio with his examiners Martin Noble (Oxford) and Steve Keyse (Dundee)

Fabrizio Villa, a joint PhD student between the labs of Daan van Aalten and Dario Alessi, successfully completed and defended his PhD thesis entitled 'Structural studies of the PTPL1 tyrosine phosphatase and OSR1'.

Following an excellent seminar about his PhD research project Fabrizio was thoroughly grilled by his examiners, Martin Noble and Steve Keyse, and by all accounts did very well. After a brief and well deserved summer vacation Fabrizio is going to return to his home city of Milan to undertake postdoctoral work in the group of Dr. Andrea Musacchio, Department of Experimental Oncology at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy, to work on signalling pathways that regulate the cell cycle. We wish him all the best.




 

The MRC Council approve enhanced funding for the MRC Unit
31 July, 2006

At their meeting on July 26th 2006, The MRC Council gave the highest possible score of 6.0 for the Unit’s recent work and future proposals and accepted the recommendations of the Physiological Systems and Clinical Sciences Board to provide an expanded budget of £14.9 million over the five year period April 2007-2012. Dr Nick Morrice, Head of Proteomics in the Unit was promoted from Band 3 to Band 2 and Dr Kei Sakamoto, Head of the Unit’s Molecular Physiology Laboratory was promoted from Band 4 to Band 3 effective April 2007. The Council also gave approval for the Unit to recruit a biologically focused Programme Leader with significant X-ray crystallographic expertise, which has been advertised.




 

Former MRC-PPU Postdoc’s Biotech Company Makes Progress
1 July, 2006

PIramed, a biotechnology company co-founded by Peter Parker, who was a postdoc with Philip Cohen in the Unit from 1980-1983, has just signed a development deal with Genentech for US$ 275 million. It has been quite a year for Peter who was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 2006.




 

MRC Unit Postdoc Awarded Prestigious Fellowship to set up laboratory in Spain
30 June, 2006
1248357580-mrc%20unit%20postdoc%20awarded%20prestigious%20fellowship%20to%20set%20up%20laboratory%20in%20spain.jpg
Jose Bayascas

Jose Bayascas, who is undertaking postdoctoral research in Dario Alessi’s Group, has been awarded a Ramon y Cajal grant to set up his own independent laboratory in Spain. Ramon y Cajal awards are a new initiative funded by the Spanish government to recruit talented individuals to undertake independent research at Universities throughout Spain. The fellowships are awarded competitively based on the candidate's past achievements and proposed future research project. This award provides Jose with a five-year tenure track position, which he intends to take up at a University in Barcelona in 2007.

During his postdoctoral research, Jose generated and analysed several genetic models to evaluate the roles of the PDK1 signalling pathway in mice. A vital finding he made was the demonstration that lowering the expression of the PDK1 kinase markedly protects mice from developing cancers that arise from the loss of the PTEN tumour suppressor. This study published recently in Current Biology is important as it suggests that drugs that inhibit PDK1 could be of use for treatment of cancer in humans. Jose has made several other interesting observations that we hope to publish soon.




 

Congratulations to Dr Alberto Vitari
30 June, 2006
1248357445-congratulations%20to%20dr%20alberto%20vitari.jpg
Alberto Vitari

Alberto Vitari, who identified the SPAK/OSR1 protein kinases as the first physiological substrates for WNK1 protein kinase mutated in humans with Gordon’s hypertension syndrome has successfully defended in PhD thesis. His examiners were Julian Downward (London Research Institute) and Mike Ashford (Neurosciences Institute, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee). Alberto is now commencing Postdoctoral research at Genentech working with Vishva Dixit on characterizing the roles of novel deubiquitinating enzymes in cell signalling.




 

Dundee Half Marathon
25 June, 2006
1248362595-dundee%20half%20marathon.jpg
back row L-R: Abdallah, Jose, Alberto, Fabrizio, Andy, Andrew, Barry, Stephan, Ivan, Simon, Mark. Front row L-R: Maisie, Silvia, Jane, Louise, Catherine

MRC students, postdocs and support staff raised over £500 for Cancer Research UK (CRUK) after taking part in the Dundee half marathon on Sunday 25th June. Chris Hunter, a PhD student in Simon Arthur's Group, came eighth overall with a time of 1:29:55.




 

Two former members of the School of Life Sciences elected Fellows of the Royal Society of London
1 June, 2006
1248789054-two%20former%20members%20of%20the%20school%20of%20life%20sciences%20elected%20fellows%20of%20the%20royal%20society%20of%20london.jpg
David Barford and Peter Parker

Peter Parker who was a postdoctoral fellow in Philip Cohen’s lab from 1980-1983 and David Barford, who worked in Tricia Cohen’s lab in 1990-1991 have just been elected Fellows of the Royal Society of London.

Peter is currently Head of the Signal Transduction Laboratory at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, while David is a Programme Leader at the Institute for Cancer Research.

Peter Parker has made many important discoveries in the field of cell signalling. These include major contributions to our understanding of protein kinase C, such as its identification as the major receptor for tumour promoting phorbol esters,the domains that bind both phorbol esters and diacylglycerol;also, the identification and characterisation of multiple PKC isoforms, how they are regulated and some of their physiological roles. He was the first to purify and characterise the Class 1 PI/3-kinases in collaboration with Mike Waterfield and is credited with the discovery of the second messenger PI(3,5)P2. He is a co-founder of the biotechnology company PIramed.

David Barford is one of the UK ’s leading X-ray crystallographers. With Louise Johnson he determined the three-dimensional structures of the active and inactive forms of glycogen phosphorylase, providing the first molecular explanation for how phosphorylation of a protein can alter its activity. He solved the structures of all the three major classes of protein phosphatases encoded by the human genome which included the first structure of a PDZ domain to be elucidated. More recently he solved the structures of protein kinase B and B-Raf, two of the most important targets for anti-cancer drugs (point mutations in B-Raf are the cause of 70% of malignant skin cancers). His studies have given important insights into the regulation of these key enzymes.

Only 40 people from the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth are elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society each year in all branches of science (Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy and Geology as well as all biological and medical subjects).




 

Congratulations to Yvonne and Calum!
1 June, 2006

Yvonne Woods and Calum Sutherland have announced their engagement. Yvonne obtained her PhD in Philip's lab from 1997-2001 and Calum from 1991-1994.




 

Philip Cohen named the 32nd most powerful person in Scotland
1 June, 2006

Each year the Scotland on Sunday newspaper publishes the Power 100 list, in which a panel of judges assess the relative impact that different individuals are having in Scotland. This year, the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit’s Director leaped 64 places in the list to number 32. The judges seemed particularly impressed by Philip’s role in a multi-million pound deal which persuaded six of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to work in collaboration with the Unit to accelerate the development of novel drugs to treat disease that target particular protein kinases. Termed the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy, it is now widely recognised as a model for collaboration between Academia and Industry and this year gained the Queen’s Anniversary Award for Higher Education, which was awarded to Philip by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in February.

The new ranking puts Philip 4 places ahead of Sir Tom McKillop, the former CEO of AstraZeneca, who recently became the Deputy Chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, 13 places ahead of Jack Perry, the CEO of Scottish Enterprise, and no less than 52 places ahead of Walter Smith, the manager of Scotland’s soccer team! Philip was also well ahead of all the Vice Chancellors who run the major Universities in Scotland.




 

Dario Alessi invited to give the 2006 Francis Crick Lecture
1 June, 2006

Dario Alessi, Programme Leader in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit has been selected by the Council of the Royal Society to deliver the Francis Crick Lecture in 2006. The Crick Lecture is given annually in any field of Biological Science and is held in honour of the scientist who with James Watson solved the structure of DNA in 1953.




 

First Prize for Iain Inverarity at 17th Regional Graduate Symposium
5 April, 2006
1248361702-first%20prize%20for%20iain%20inverarity%20at%2017th%20regional%20graduate%20symposium.jpg
Iain Inverarity with Dundee East MSP Shona Robinson

Iain Inverarity, a 3rd year PhD student jointly supervised by Alison Hulme, Department of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh and Philip Cohen in the Life Sciences Unit, University of Dundee, won first prize of £200 for the best lecture given at the 17th Regional Graduate Symposium organised by the Society of Chemistry and Industry on 5th April in the School of Life Sciences.

Iain has synthesised a number of derivatives of anisomycin that are still capable of activating stress-activated MAP kinases, and he has exploited this information to make further derivatives that can be coupled to insoluble supports. These probes can now be used to isolate the anisomycin receptor (s) responsible for triggering MAP kinase cascades.




 

Former MRC Unit student becomes Research Director of Canada's top Research Institute
28 February, 2006

James Woodgett, who received his PhD in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit in 1984 and is currently a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto is to become the Research Director of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute. Also based in Toronto the Lunenfeld is recognised as Canada's top Life Sciences Institute and includes many world renowned researchers in the area of cell signalling and cancer including Tony Pawson, Mike Tyers and Alan Bernstein.




 

Philip Cohen launches the Centenary Celebrations of the Biochemical Journal
28 February, 2006
1248357724-philip%20cohen%20launches%20the%20centenary%20celebrations%20of%20the%20biochemical%20journal.jpg
Philip Cohen presenting Lynne Brindley with the digitized archive

The Biochemical Journal is celebrating its centenary in 2006 and the first event to mark this milestone was a reception at the British Library in London. Philip Cohen’s first official duty as the President of the Biochemical Society was to present Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library, with a newly digitized complete back archive of the Biochemical Journal starting from volume 1 in 1906.

The complete archive of research comprises 340,000 pages, 392 volumes and 1340 issues of the Biochemical Journal and is freely available online at http://www.biochemj.org




 

Division of Signal Transduction Therapy awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education
16 February, 2006

All the Programme Leaders in the MRC Unit and four other Research Groups in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee are involved in one of the largest research collaborations ever undertaken between the pharmaceutical industry and an academic institution in the UK, termed the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT). Initiated in 1998 it has helped to launch over 100 new drug discovery programmes and is widely regarded as a model for how academic-industrial collaborations should work. The current participating companies are AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co, Merck KGaA and Pfizer.

The achievement was recognised by a dinner at the Guildhall London on the evening of 15 February and on 16th February at Buckingham Palace the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh presented the University of Dundee with a Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher Education. After the official ceremony the Queen and the Duke had informal discussions with other members of the DSTT who included Peter Downes, co-Director of the DSTT, Sir James Black, Chancellor of the University of Dundee, Hilary Mclauchlan and James Hastie, the Manager and Deputy Manager of the DSTT, Jennifer Bain, Head of the Kinase Profiling Service as well as Iva Klevernic and Sarah Ross who are graduate students working with Philip and Peter respectively.