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Wellcome Trust grants for York researchers

Posted on 24 May 2016

Three University of York academics have been awarded prestigious Wellcome Trust Investigator Awards for their work in biomedical research.

Professor Jeremy Mottram and Professor Antal Rot, from York’s Centre for Immunology and Infection (CII), and Professor Reidun Twarock, from the Department of Mathematics, are chosen as recipients of funding to support multiple researchers in their respective laboratories for five years.

Jeremy Mottram, Professor of Pathogen Biology, is awarded for his project on Leishmania - a parasite transmitted by the bite of an infected sand fly that causes leishmaniasis, a life-threatening disease present in developing countries of the tropics and sub-tropics.

Professor Mottram said: “I am delighted to receive this award as it will allow me to investigate how this parasite adapts to life in its insect and mammalian hosts and how it establishes an infection and causes disease. It is expected that advances in knowledge on the biology of the parasite will support efforts to discover new drugs to treat leishmaniasis.”

Antal Rot, Chair in Biomedical Sciences, will study how a cell surface receptor called DARC affects leukocytes - cells originating in the bone marrow that fight infections.

As people of African ancestry carry a unique variant of DARC gene leading to altered features in their leukocytes, this causes an increased chance of kidney disease and breast and prostate cancers. Professor Rot will study the function of DARC in the bone marrow in the hopes of understanding why people of African origin are at a higher risk of severe forms of these diseases.

Professor Rot said: “I am looking forward to conducting studies on this very important, but to date, almost completely neglected aspect of human health. Our work on a gene variant encoding a molecule called DARC, which uniquely characterises individuals of African ancestry, should explain how this variant changes the processes of cell formation in the bone marrow. Our future results should suggest new patient-group specific therapies for many debilitating diseases affecting more severely individuals of African ancestry.”

Professor Reidun Twarock, from the Departments of Biology and Mathematics and the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis, is awarded a Joint Investigator Wellcome Trust Award with Professor Peter Stockley, from the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds.

Their project will look into the fundamental mechanisms regulating the assembly of viruses such as the common cold to find out how they form, evolve and infect their hosts.

As genomes of such viruses are thought to provide a cryptic self-assembly instruction manual for the production of infectious virus particles, their research will focus on the cooperative nature of such genomes in virus assembly and identify the characteristics of the RNA-protein contacts underpinning these mechanisms. In assessing how viruses may evade anti-viral strategies targeting these mechanisms, they will also devise methods for novel forms of anti-viral intervention.

Professor Twarock and Professor Stockley said: "We are very excited about this unique opportunity to capitalize on our discovery of packaging signal mediated assembly to gain fundamental insights in how single-stranded RNA viruses form and evolve, and exploit these insights to lay the foundation for a new type of antiviral strategy."

Meanwhile, another University of York academic, Professor Jim McCambridge from the Department of Health Sciences, has been awarded a Wellcome Trust grant to carry out research into understanding the roles the alcohol industry plays within the UK policy making context, and more broadly in influencing global research agendas, science and policy.

Professor McCambridge and his team will initially develop a new platform to capture publicly available data and undertake a series of systematic reviews.

 Prof McCambridge said: "I'm really delighted to receive this award as it permits the development of an area of study which is potentially very important to helping address the societal and public health challenges posed by alcohol."


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