Sir Philip Cohen, Director of the Medical Research Council’s Protein Phosphorylation Unit, Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Dundee, and Director-Designate of the newly established Scottish Institute for Cell Signalling (SCILLS), has been awarded the Royal Society’s prestigious Royal Medal.
Professor Cohen was the fourth scientist in his Unit to receive an eminent award in 2008, making it a particularly special year both for the individual recipients and the Unit as a whole.
The Royal Medal is awarded annually in recognition of the profound implications an individual’s research findings have for others, and has been granted this year to Professor Cohen for his contribution to our understanding of the role of protein phosphorylation in cell regulation. Protein phosphorylation is a control mechanism in cells, and abnormalities in the mechanism are a cause or consequence of many serious conditions including cancer, diabetes and inflammatory disease.
On hearing of his award, Professor Cohen said: "I am delighted to have received this honour which is only awarded to one scientist in the UK biological sciences community each year. Coming so soon after my recent election to the US National Academy of Sciences, this has been quite a year for the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit at Dundee - Dario Alessi was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society, John Rouse received the Colworth Medal of the Biochemical Society and Kei Sakamoto was honoured with the Young Investigator Award of the American Physiological Society."
Professor Cohen has been honoured 37 times during his career, and his honours include degrees, fellowships, awards and medals. In the last three years alone, Professor Cohen has received the Queen’s Anniversary Award for Higher Education, the Rolf Luft Prize (Sweden) and the Debrecen Award for Molecular Medicine (Hungary), and next year he will receive the Achievement Award of the Society for Biomolecular Sciences.
Only three Royal Medals are awarded each year, for the most important contributions to the advancement of natural knowledge: one in the physical sciences, one in biological sciences, and the third in applied sciences. The Nobel prize winners Frederick Sanger, Max Perutz and Francis Crick, among others, have all received Royal Medals during the medal's rich history.
Hosea Handoyo, a PhD student in Philip Cohen’s laboratory, has been awarded a prestigious pre-doctoral Research Fellowship from the Boehringer-Ingelheim Foundation. The award of €2000 per month will provide Hosea’s stipend for two years with the possibility of renewal for a further 12 months. An additional €100 per month is provided for other project related costs.
Hosea was born and brought up in Indonesia, but for the past 4 years has been an undergraduate student at the HAN University of Applied Sciences, Nijmegen, The Netherlands where he graduated this summer with cum laude. During his final year, Hosea spent nine months in Philip’s laboratory carrying out a research project to understand how the protein kinase Tpl2 is activated by Interleukin-1. Tpl2 is activated during infection by pathogens and plays a key role in fighting infection by stimulating the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. Hosea will extend these studies during the first phase of his PhD project.
New Group Leader Gopal Sapkota arrived in Dundee on the 1st November to start his laboratory in the TGFbeta signalling pathway. Previously Gopal worked for five years in Joan Massagué's laboratory at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, New York. For more details on Gopal's work click here
Ian Kelsall, a student in Tricia Cohen’s group, successfully defended his PhD thesis entitled "Roles of the glycogen targeting subunits of protein phosphatase 1 in the tissue-specific regulation of glycogen metabolism " on October 23rd 2008. Ian gave a superb seminar on the design and use of a model system to investigate the allosteric regulation of the hepatic glycogen-targeted form of protein phosphatase 1, and explained how a drug that disrupts the interaction of its glycogen-targeting subunit with the active form of glycogen phosphorylase may be beneficial for the treatment of diabetes. Following the lecture, Ian then defended his thesis at a three hour oral examination, this "viva" being conducted by external examiner Professor Jim Woodgett, Director of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at the University of Toronto, Canada, and internal examiner Dr Calum Sutherland, Diabetes UK Senior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Neuroendocrinology, at the University of Dundee's Medical School.
Jim Woodgett, who carried out his Ph.D. in Philip Cohen’s laboratory over the period 1981-1984, gave an Alumnus Lecture to the MRC-PPU and the College of Life Sciences on October 22nd 2008 entitled “Genetic analysis of GSK‑3 in insulin and Wnt signalling”. Jim, who is the Research Director of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto, Canada’s premier centre for Life Sciences, stayed on for a further day to examine Ian Kelsall, one of Tricia Cohen’s graduate students, for his Ph.D.
The Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit at the University of Dundee has been awarded £989,000 to set up the UK’s National Centre for Protein Kinase Profiling, a unique service which will widen academic access to one of the fastest developing areas of the pharmaceutical industry.
Protein kinases are the largest family of enzymes encoded by the human genome and in recent years have become the pharmaceutical industry’s most important class of drug targets in the quest to develop new treatments for major diseases such as cancer.
This new award from the Medical Research Council’s Strategy Development Group to the Unit in Dundee will enable academic research teams around the world to access kinase profiling services which have previously only been widely available in the commercial sector and either unsuitable or too expensive for many academics to use.
“A major challenge in the development of new treatments is to make drugs that can be specifically targeted to selectively suppress the activity of one or at most a few of the 500 protein kinases encoded by the human genome,” said Professor Sir Philip Cohen, Director of the MRC-PPU at Dundee.
“Currently, some 30% of the research and development budget of the pharmaceutical industry is focused on this area of kinase profiling, and in cancer R&D the figure is even higher at around 50%.
“In recent years, many academic centres have started to set up their own drug discovery programmes, many of which are also aimed at developing specific inhibitors of protein kinases. These academic centres have great need to gain access to kinase profiling services but those offered commercially are tailored to the needs of the pharmaceutical industry and too expensive for most academics to use.
“With this new funding the Protein Phosphorylation Unit can make our kinase profiling service widely available to the academic community at a reasonable cost.”
The grant, totalling £989,000, will provide the salaries of three technical staff, and a synthetic organic chemist for five years, plus equipment and a consumables budget that will enable the size of the current panel to be expanded from 80 to 100 kinases.
The Dundee Unit initially established a large panel of protein kinases in 1998, enabling researchers to run kinase profiling tests and helping open up a new niche in the pharmaceutical industry which is now estimated to be worth over US $200 million per annum.
Full details of the service and the cost to Academic users will be made available soon. Further details of the project can be seen at http://www.kinase-screen.mrc.ac.uk/
The SCottish Institute for ceLL Signalling (SCILLS) became a reality on October 1st 2008. With initial funding of £2 million per annum over the next five years from the Scottish Funding Council, its initial goal is to establish a Protein Ubiquitination Unit (PUU) dedicated to understanding the role of ubiquitination and related modifications in cell regulation and human disease. The PUU is housed on the 4th floor of the Sir James Black Centre at the University of Dundee, one floor above the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit with which it will interact closely, and is part of the College of Life Sciences Research Complex
Christian, a visiting postdoc to the MRC Unit from the University of Tübingen, Germany, is working hard in Dario Alessi’s lab at characterising various protein kinase inhibitors. However Christian has also been exploring fishing opportunities in local Scottish rivers during the weekends/evenings. This has turned out to be remarkably productive. So far this year Christian has caught six salmon, culminating in a recent huge 16lbs fish of a lifetime.
Pictured is Christian having just caught the 16lbs salmon in the River Tay at the Kercock Beat. The fish was hooked on a Saturday in early September, but at first Christian thought he would never be able to bring it out of the water as unfortunately the other rods (salmon fishermen) and the ghillies (fishing guides) were in the hut having lunch and didn’t hear Christian's screams for help with a net. After a long fight, when the fish came up to the surface for the third time with no signs of anyone else returning from lunch, Christian decided to tail it, as beaching was not possible due to rocks and a steep drop of the bank. Christian had never tailed a salmon before but knew theoretically what to do from an article he had read in 'Trout and Salmon' journal. He waded down into the river and with a huge surge of adrenaline somehow managed to grab the salmon’s tail and pull the massive fish out of the water. As indicated in the article the salmon actually lost its orientation and stiffened, thereby enabling Christian to bring the fish onto the bank. It still had sea lice on it (see picture) indicating that it had been in freshwater for less than 24hrs and was therefore in good nick for eating.
When Christian finally approached the lunch hut the Scottish fishermen came out astonished to see the "bar of silver". Christian has now taken the fish to a smoke house to be smoked as self-caught wild Scottish Salmon. We will report back shortly on the taste.
The University of Dundee and the Medical Research Council (MRC) are pleased to announce new funding of almost £11 million from a consortium of pharmaceutical companies for the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT), a groundbreaking collaboration that aims to attack major global diseases.
Five of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies - AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck KGaA (through its Merck Serono division) and Pfizer - will provide core support of £10.8 million to the DSTT over the four year period from 2008 - 2012.
The DSTT is a collaboration between the pharmaceutical companies and thirteen research teams based at the University of Dundee. Eight of the teams are based within the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit at the College of Life Sciences.
The DSTT was founded in 1998 and expanded in 2003, and over that period attracted funding of £23million. It is thought to be the largest collaboration between the UK academic community and the pharmaceutical industry and is widely regarded as a model for how academia and industry should interact. The project was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2006.
This new round of funding will secure 50 posts at Dundee for the next four years.
The DSTT is a highly specialised unit working to accelerate the development of new drug treatments for major diseases including cancer and diabetes in a market that is estimated to be worth $12.7 billion per annum and projected to reach $58.6 billion per annum in 2010.
The three co-directors of the DSTT are Sir Philip Cohen and Professors Dario Alessi and Peter Downes. Commenting on the renewal of the agreement Sir Philip said “Collaborations between academic laboratories and the pharmaceutical industry typically last a few years. Therefore to maintain and expand support until 2012 when three of the participating companies will have been funding the DSTT for 14 years is unprecedented; we must be doing something right!”
Professor Dario Alessi said, “I am delighted that the agreement has been renewed, as this will enable us to translate our recent research findings and ideas into potential new drug therapies for the treatment of cancer, hypertension and Parkinson’s disease.”
Professor Peter Downes, Vice-Principal of the University of Dundee and Head of the College of Life Sciences, said, “The College of Life Sciences in Dundee is committed to the translation of world class basic science for health and economic benefits. Renewal of this collaboration with five of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies is a vote of confidence in that strategy and in Dundee’s leadership position in biomedical research.”
On behalf of the pharmaceutical companies, Dr Malcolm Skingle of GlaxoSmithKline Chairman of the Programme Management Group said, “This has been a very successful collaboration over the past ten years and we are delighted to see it continue. This project has shown the benefits that can come from pharmaceutical companies like ourselves working hand-in-hand with top flight research at the University of Dundee.”
The aim of the DSTT is to work with the participating pharmaceutical companies to accelerate the development of improved drugs to treat global diseases - such as cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis - and which exert their effects by targeting two types of enzyme termed “kinases” and “phosphatases”.
The University of Dundee and the associated MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit comprise the world’s largest centre for the study of kinases and phosphatases with nearly 200 scientific and support staff working in this area. Kinase drug discovery accounts for about 30% of the R&D budget of the pharmaceutical industry and over 50% of global cancer drug discovery.
The importance of this market is highlighted by the fact that in recent years ten drugs that target kinases or phosphatases have been approved for clinical use. They include the drug Gleevec, which has shown spectacular efficacy in treating a form of Leukaemia called CML, and cyclosporin, the drug that prevents tissue rejection and permitted the widespread use of organ transplantation.
Under the terms of the new deal the companies will also pay additional unspecified sums to purchase reagents and services and to obtain licences to patents filed by the MRC and the University of Dundee.
Miratul Muqit has started working in the MRC Unit, after being awarded a prestigious Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellowship, to carry out research on the Parkinson’s disease associated kinases PINK1 and LRRK2. Miratul is a clinical neurologist who was involved in the original discovery of PINK1 mutations in Parkinson’s patients and was attracted to the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit in view of the outstanding research environment and facilities for performing cell and molecular biological studies as applied to human disease.
Miratul will be working closely with researchers in Dario Alessi’s lab to unravel the functions of PINK1/LRRK2 kinases and will also undertake clinical duties at Ninewells Hospital. He received his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh and his PhD from University College London, and has trained as a neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.
For further details on Miratul's research interests click here
Peter Parker, a postdoctoral fellow in the MRC-PPU from 1979-1982 has sold the company he founded to Genentech for US $160 million.
Peter founded PIramed with Mike Waterfield, Paul Workman and Srivivas Akkaraju in 2003 to develop small molecule therapeutics targeting phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinases α and δ for the treatment of cancer and certain immune-based disorders, respectively. The first product targeting PI 3-kinase α is currently undergoing Phase 1 clinical trials.
While holding an MRC Postdoctoral Training Fellowship at Dundee in Philip Cohen’s laboratory, Peter identified the amino acid residues in glycogen synthase that become phosphorylated in response to adrenalin and dephosphorylated in response to insulin. His seminar discovery that insulin induced the dephosphorylation of glycogen synthase at the sites targeted by glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) (Parker et al (1983) Eur.J.Biochem 130, 227-234) paved the way for the subsequent identification of protein kinase B (PKB) as the enzyme that mediates the insulin-induced inhibition of GSK3 and activation of glycogen synthase.
After leaving Dundee, Peter carried out a second three year postdoc with Mike Waterfield at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’s research institute in London (now called the London Research Institute (LRI) of Cancer Research UK) becoming Head of the Signal Transduction Laboratory at LRI in 1985. The following year he moved with Mike Waterfield to the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at Middlesex Hospital London as Head of its Cell Regulation Laboratory. He returned to LRI as a Princiipal Scientist in 1990. Since 2006 he has had a joint appointment at LRI and Kings College London, where he is Head of the Division of Cancer Studies. Peter was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society in 2006 for his major contributions to our understanding of Protein Kinase C and its roles in cell regulation.
Tim Haystead, who worked in Philip Cohen’s lab as a scientific officer from 1983-1985 and then carried out his PhD at Dundee with Grahame Hardie, has sold Serenex, the company he founded, to Pfizer for several hundred million US dollars.
Tim formed Serenex in 2000 to exploit new drug discovery technology he developed (called proteome mining) that enables new drug candidates to be identified in large combinatorial libraries. The selected candidates are then progressed to Phase 1 clinical trials through directed iterative chemistry. Unlike traditional methods of screening drug targets, proteome mining uses a reverse screen whereby “druggable” compounds are used to identify biologically relevant targets, and by design, corresponding drug candidates. The technology was validated by the rapid discovery of an active anti cancer agent (SNX5422), which targets HSP90 and began Phase 1 clinical trials in June 2007. Several such trials are underway and one is nearing completion with a favourable toxicity profile in humans. The first Phase 2 trial for non-small cell lung cancer is scheduled to begin in late 2008 and will be coordinated by the US National Cancer Institute. The technology platform that was the basis for Serenex has been improved and is now being developed to discover novel antibiotics to which bacteria cannot develop drug resistance. To do this, Tim has set up a Not-for-Profit organisation, the Institute for Global Disease Mechanisms into which some of the proceeds of the sale of Serenex will be put.
After leaving Dundee in 1988, Tim carried out postdoctoral work with Edwin Krebs at the University of Washington, Seattle before becoming an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1991. He joined the Pharmacology Department at Duke University as an Associate Professor in 1996 being promoted to Full Professor in 2000. From 2000-2008 he was also the Chief Scientific Officer and Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of Serenex.
Tim’s Ph.D. studies with Grahame Hardie focused mainly on the mechanisms by which insulin and adrenalin regulate acetyl CoA carboxylase, which catalyses the rate limiting step in fatty acid synthesis, Tim published seven first authored papers during this period, including one describing the effects of the tumour promoter okadaic acid on intracellular protein phosphorylation and metabolism (Haystead et al (1989) Nature 337, 78-81) which has been cited 739 times.
Edmond Fischer, who with Edwin Krebs, discovered the first example of the regulation of protein function by reversible phosphorylation was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Dundee on June 20th, 2008. In 1955, Fischer and Krebs found that glycogen phosphorylase could be converted to its active form in a phosphorylation reaction catalysed by phosphorylase kinase, the first protein kinase to be identified. It later became clear that phosphorylation regulates almost every aspect of cell life and that normal phosphorylation is a cause or consequence of many diseases. As a result, kinases have become the pharmaceutical industry’s most important drug targets and about a third of the R & D budget of the pharmaceutical industry is devoted to this area. The full laureation address was delivered by Philip Cohen to an audience of 2,000 during the Life Sciences graduation ceremony in the Caird Hall at Dundee.
To read the full address, click here.
Kei Sakamoto, a programme leader in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit, received New Investigator Award from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in May 2008 at the annual meeting of ACSM in Indianapolis, USA.
This award is intended to “recognize new investigators who, as a consequence of their educational background/training and quality of initial independent research productivity, have begun and are likely to continue to make a significant contribution to knowledge in basic or clinical exercise science or sports medicine.”
Commenting on the Award, Kei said:
“I am very happy and honoured to have received this award. It is particularly memorable as ACSM is the first international conference I attended after I finished my Masters degree in exercise physiology in Japan. I will continue to work on exercise physiology and identify the molecular signalling mechanisms by which exercise controls key metabolic processes in muscle.”
A paper published by Philip Cohen’s group in J. Cell Sci. (2008) 121, 149-154 entitled “TPL2-mediated activation of ERK1 and ERK2 regulates the processing of pre-TNFα in LPS-stimulated macrophages” has been highlighted as the Editor’s Choice in the second issue of Science Signalling, a new journal published by Science which started in January 2008. In this paper, Simon Rousseau, a senior postdoc in Philip’s lab, showed that the TPL2-MKK1-ERK1/2 signalling pathway regulates the processing of pre-TNFα to TNFα rather than interfering with TNFα production at the level of gene expression, as had been previously thought. To read the commentary on the paper in Science Signalling click on the link below:
Dario Alessi, Deputy Director of the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit and Professor of Cell Signalling in the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee, has been elected a Fellow of The Royal Society of London, the highest accolade that a UK scientist can receive.
Dario’s election to science’s “Hall of Fame” recognises his major contributions to our understanding of how mutations in enzymes called protein kinases cause diabetes, cancer and hypertension. He discovered a protein kinase called PDK1, the “missing link” in the chain of events by which insulin induces the conversion of glucose in the blood to its storage form glycogen in muscle and liver. His research also identified PDK1 as a promising anti-cancer agent. Dario solved the structure of the protein kinase LKB1 and explained how mutations in this enzyme cause cancer. In a further project he worked out how mutations in the WNK family of protein kinases give rise to an inherited hypertension syndrome. These wide-ranging discoveries have suggested new ways to prevent and treat cancer and to develop improved drugs for the treatment of high blood pressure. One of his major current projects is to elucidate the physiological role of LRRK2 and why mutations in this protein kinase cause Parkinson’s disease.
About the Royal Society:
Each year, just over 40 people across the UK, Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland, working in all branches of science ranging from mathematics to astronomy, physics, chemistry, genetics, botany and medicine, are elected to The Royal Society Fellowship. It is the world’s oldest scientific academy founded in 1660 by King Charles II.
Commenting on the Award Dario said: “I have to say I was completely gobsmacked to hear about my election. Now the shock is over, I’m especially looking forward to signing my name in the Royal Society Charter Book, which contains signatures of legendary scientists from the past 350 years including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Francis Crick. This will be an unbelievable moment for me and is also a tribute to the researchers in my lab, past and present, with whom I’ve had the privilege to work. The excellent facilities at Dundee University and fabulous support from all of my colleagues has also made an enormous contribution to my work and I’d especially like to thank Philip Cohen – first and foremost for putting up with me for all these years and also for providing much of the inspiration, resources and laboratory facilities to undertake my research. A crucial ingredient has also been the Medical Research Council, who for the last 17 years has generously supported a large proportion of my research. This has enabled me to tackle long-term challenging projects that I would otherwise have been unable to undertake. I have also benefited greatly from the support of many charities including Diabetes UK, the Association for Cancer Research, the Wellcome Trust, the Moffat Charitable Trust and Camperdown Lodge in Dundee and I would like to thank them profusely for the research funds they have provided.”
About Dario Alessi:
Dario Alessi is 40 years of age and obtained a B.Sc and Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Birmingham. He came to Dundee in 1991 after receiving a postdoctoral training fellowship from the Medical Research Council to work with Sir Philip Cohen in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit. He set up his own research team in the Unit in 1998, becoming its Deputy Director in April 2007. Dario’s achievements have been recognised previously by many research prizes, culminating in 2005 with the award of the EMBO Gold Medal, the premier award in Europe for a life scientist under the age of 40. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2002, was made an Honorary Professor of the University of Dundee in 2003 and a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation in 2005. According to the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia, Dario was the world’s 13th most cited scientist working in the field of biochemistry and biology over the ten-year period from 1995-2005.
Formation of a Protein Ubiquitination Unit
The Scottish Government has recently announced that they are providing funding to form the Scottish Institute for cell Signalling (SCILLS), which will be set up on the campus of the University of Dundee, under the direction of Sir Philip Cohen FRS, FRSE. Its initial remit is to form a Protein Ubiquitination Unit with the aim of building up a critical mass of research teams who are studying the role of protein ubiquitination and related modifications in cell regulation and human disease. The new Unit will be housed alongside the world renowned Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit. The Director designate wishes to hear from scientists with exciting research programmes in the area of protein ubiquitination, who are interested in relocating their laboratories to the Protein Ubiquitination Unit and/or in becoming the Head of this Unit. The Director is also interested in hearing from younger scientists wishing to set up their first independent laboratory in the Unit. Informal enquiries should be made to the Director by telephone (+44 (0)1382 384238) or e.mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and should be lodged by June 2nd, 2008.
Philip Cohen has been elected a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in recognition of his significant contributions to science. Membership of the NAS is one of the highest honours given to a scientist or engineer in the United States.
Sir Philip will be inducted into the Academy next April during its 146th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
“I have to admit that this came as a huge surprise because I had no idea that I was even being considered for this great honour!” said Sir Philip. “Over the last 24 hours, I have been deluged by emails from all over the world congratulating me. One of the nicest things about this award has been hearing from many old friends and colleagues that I haven’t seen for many years.”
There are currently just over 2,000 active NAS members. Among the NAS's renowned members are Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, and Alexander Graham Bell. Over 180 living Academy members have won Nobel Prizes.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit honorific society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to furthering science and technology. Established in 1863, the National Academy of Sciences has served to "investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art" whenever called upon to do so by any department of the government. For more information, or for the full list of newly elected members, visit The National Academy of Sciences
It was announced on March 20th that Philip Cohen has receive the 2009 Society for Biomolecular Sciences’ Achievement Award in recognition of his “key contributions in the area of kinase research that led to the discovery of many therapeutic targets and the development of an important class of drugs.” The SBS Achievement Award will be presented at the SBS 15th Annual Conference in Lille, France on April 30th, where Philip will also present a lecture. The Award carries a plaque and honorarium of $5000. The 2008 Award was given to Tadataka (Tachi) Yamada, formerly the Research Director of GlaxoSmithKline and currently the Executive Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Commenting on the Award, Philip said:
“I am delighted to have received this most unexpected award. It is particularly pleasing that I will accept it in the Conference Centre at Lille which I last visited some years ago to watch my daughter Suzanne play for Scotland in the World Bridge Olympiad!”
Olga Ananieva, a postdoctoral researcher in Simon Arthur’s lab and Simon Morton who obtained his PhD in Philip Cohen’s lab in 2004, were married on the 4th of April at the Ceremony Rooms in Glasgow
Olga and Simon are the ninth pair of students or postdocs in the MRC PPU to get married. If you would like to carry out exciting research but have not yet found the right person, please click here for how to apply!
Previous work in the MRC Unit has suggested that activating the AMPK pathway using clinically approved anti-diabetes drugs such as metformin could be employed to suppress tumour formation. This would inhibit cell growth by tricking a cancer cell into believing that it did not have enough energy to grow. Xu tested this idea by administration of tumour prone PTEN+/- mice with metformin as well as 2 other drugs that activate AMPK (phenformin or A-769662). He found that these drugs markedly activated AMPK in mice tissues and lead to significant delays in the onset of tumour formation in these mice. Xu also showed that inhibiting the AMPK pathway by reducing the expression of LKB1 markedly accelerated the rate at which tumours arose in PTEN+/- mice. The paper describing these findings has just been published in the Biochemical Journal. These findings highlight in an animal model relevant to understanding human cancer, the vital role that activation of the LKB1-AMPK pathway plays in suppressing tumourigenesis resulting from loss of PTEN tumour suppressor. Xu’s study demonstrates that the clinically approved diabetes drug metformin as well as its more potent derivative phenformin have great potential in suppressing cancer. They suggest that metformin or phenformin could be used to prevent onset of tumours and suggest that further work into whether these drugs would have benefit for the treatment of cancer would be worthwhile.
The Scottish Government announced on April 20th that they were providing £10 million to help set up the Scottish Institute for ceLL Signalling (SCILLS) in Dundee. The founding Director of the Institute will be Sir Philip Cohen, who is currently the Director of the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit (MRC-PPU). The £10 million will be used to set up the first division of SCILLS, namely a Protein Ubiquitination Unit. This will be located on the fourth floor of The Sir James Black Centre in the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee, immediately above the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit. It is anticipated that the Protein Ubiquitination Unit and the MRC-PPU will interact closely and Sir Philip will remain as the Director of the MRC-PPU.
The MRC-PPU was set up before the area of protein phosphorylation had become of major interest to the pharmaceutical industry. The aim of the Protein Ubiquitination Unit is to develop exceptional strengths in another field of cell signalling, which is predicted to become of major importance for drug discovery in the future. Dundee has already begun to develop significant strengths in protein ubiquitination in recent years and SCILLS will enable a critical mass of key players in this field to be built up to stimulate Scotland’s biotechnology industry in the future.
Doron Rosenzweig who joined Tricia Cohen’s research group in February 2008 has received an award from the Joan and Reginald Coleman-Cohen fund to contribute to his postdoctoral studies in the Unit. Prior to his move to Dundee, Doron carried out his PhD at the Technion, Haifa, Israel. The Reginald Coleman-Cohen Fund was set up by the estate of the Coleman-Cohen family in Israel to provide funds to promote the exchange of scientists between the Technion and the United Kingdom. Doron’s arrival brings the number of different nationalities in the MRC Unit to 28.
Kei Sakamoto, a programme leader in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit, has been selected to receive a New Investigator Award from the Environmental and Exercise Physiology Section of the American Physiological Society. He will receive this prestigious award of $1000 at a special reception to be held on Monday, April 7 at the San Diego Marriott Hotel, USA
This award recognizes an outstanding investigator in the early stages of his/her career, who has made meritorious contributions to the scientific areas represented by the Environmental and Exercise Physiology Section.
In making the award, the committee members commented that “Kei has been a prolific scientist with numerous high-impact papers regarding cellular metabolic control in skeletal muscle during exercise.”
Kei’s research is focused on understanding the roles of protein kinases in controlling metabolic processes in muscle, and these studies have advanced our understanding of how exercise signals to enhance glucose uptake into muscle. Kei is now trying to work out molecular mechanism by which insulin stores glucose as glycogen in muscle, with the long term aim of providing the important information needed for the development of improved drugs to treat of type 2 diabetes in the future.
David Komander, ex-MRC Unit PhD student, who has just been appointed to a Group Leader position at the LMB in Cambridge, has received another piece of excellent news, namely the receipt of the Biochemical Society Early Career Research Award – Theme Panel V, Signal Transduction. This is one the UK’s most prestigious biochemical prizes for postdoctoral researchers in the early stages of their careers.
Gerardo Gamba (Universidad Nacional Autonoma México), one of the founders of the ion cotransporter field of research, visited the MRC Unit with two of his colleagues - Diana Pacheco-Alvarez and Paola de los Heros - to discuss research on how the WNK and SPAK signalling pathways regulate these enzymes. This lead to very stimulating discussions as well as a very nice dinner in the Lands of Loyal, which Unit members Fatema Rafiqi, Ciaran Richardson, Lali Guisado and Jacob Thastrup, working on this pathway, attended. We hope this visit will lead to interactions between our groups and a greater molecular understanding on the mechanisms by which the WNK signalling pathway regulates blood pressure.
David Komander, who undertook his PhD research with Dario Alessi and Daan van Aalten, has been appointed to a Group Leader position at LMB. During his time in Dundee (2002-2005), David undertook elegant structural analysis of the PDK1 kinase that revealed great insight into how this enzyme functioned and was regulated. His work is still of great use to the pharmaceutical companies searching for PDK1 inhibitors for the treatment of cancer. David is currently working as a postdoc in David Barford’s laboratory in the Institute of Cancer Research, where he has unravelled the structure of several enzymes that regulate the ubiquitination of proteins in cells.
David will start his laboratory on the 1st of June in the Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry (PNAC) division at LMB. This is the division where Fred Sanger worked and developed the methodology to sequence proteins and DNA, for which he was awarded two Nobel prizes. It is also the Division where Cesar Milstein and Georges Koehler invented monoclonal antibodies! David’s programme will be entitled ‘Specificity in the ubiquitin system’. In particular he wishes to investigate novel forms of ubiquitination and understand how proteins can distinguish between different forms of polyubiquitin chains.
David has two postdoctoral positions available. Anyone interested in these please email David at email@example.com
Sonja, who was John Rouse’s first PhD student, has been awarded a prestigious Ernst Schering Fellowship to carry out postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Prof. Steve Jackson, University of Cambridge UK on DNA damage signalling responses. These awards are given to “support outstanding young scientists in the field of biological, medical and chemical basic research”. Sonja defended her thesis in December 2006 and started in Cambridge early 2007. She follows closely in John’s footsteps as he also carried his PhD studies in the MRC PPU, and went to Steve Jackson’s lab for post-doctoral training. Good luck Sonja!
Following the recent recruitment of Hosea Handoyo from Indonesia and Doren Rosenweig from Israel, the number of different nationalities currently working in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit has risen to 27.
Kei Sakamoto, Programme Leader in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit has been selected to receive a Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine (SEBM). The Council of the SEBM will present Kei with the award, worth US$500, at a ceremony on April 6th 2008 in San Diego, California, USA.
Philip and Tricia visited South Africa from January 19th-28th, where Philip gave the closing talk of the annual meeting of the South African Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SASBMB), in Grahamstown, Cape Province. The lecture was attended by the South African Minister of Science Mostbudi Mangena, who then gave the closing remarks that ended the conference.
Prior to the conference Philip and Tricia spent three days at the Amakhala Game Reserve, and a selection of pictures that Tricia took can be viewed here. They also managed to fit in a round of golf at the Grahamstown Golf Course with Greg Blatch, the Chairman of the Rhodes University Biochemistry Department, and another at the Port Alfred Golf Course on the cliffs above the Indian Ocean, during which they spotted four types of antelope (Impala, Bluebuck, Springbok and Duiker).