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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Analysing how cells work can help beat cancer and heart disease

Published: 2 February 2009
Professor Chris Proud

Professor Chris Proud is embarking on major biochemical research at Southampton into how cells work, which could pave the way for new insights into diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

He has just won three major grants, totalling £2 million, that will finance the recruitment of an eight-strong research team to examine the internal operations of cells and investigate what causes them to go wrong.

Chris joined the School of Biological Sciences in October 2007 as Professor of Cellular Regulation, after heading a department at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. ‘I had heard of Southampton’s reputation and was enthusiastic to work alongside staff and students in the School’s new Institute for Life Sciences building which is now being built at Highfield.’

It is the latest move in a career that has seen him take up academic posts in Germany and China as well as Canada and the UK. Chris was initially interested in Chemistry at school but became fascinated by how living systems work and decided to combine the two sciences by studying and working in the field of Biochemistry, taking his undergraduate degree in the subject at Bristol and his PhD at Dundee.

‘There is much still to discover in the biological sciences and it is hard to predict where your work will take you, both geographically and in terms of research areas. I also enjoy working alongside talented young people and seeing how their careers develop over the years. Many former members of my research team are now running labs of their own and that’s very satisfying,’ he said.

Professor Chris Proud

Chris’s research interests centre around the way that cells make proteins and their internal communications. ‘In Biochemistry, we start with the individual components of a cell and aim to find out as much as we can about how they work normally, then what happens when things go wrong, what causes it and, ultimately, how the problem can be rectified,’ he said.

Cellular changes are key factors in many conditions such as cancers, heart disease, diabetes and brain diseases. Chris is collaborating with scientists at the Free University of Amsterdam who are undertaking clinical work on a genetic degenerative brain disease in children called leukoencephalopathy with vanishing white matter. This is similar to multiple sclerosis in that it causes a gradual deterioration in a patient’s ability to move.

The grants are from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation. ‘This is basic biochemistry, looking at how cells work and what happens when they go wrong, which is vital in the understanding of diseases and will help scientists work towards cures or ways of managing conditions,’ said Professor Proud. ‘We need to understand how and why small changes in a key component of a cell can cause it to stop working normally.’

He is looking forward to new multi-disciplinary ways of working within the new IfLS building as science at Southampton enters a new era. The School of Biological Sciences ‘bench to bedside’ research already embraces the neurosciences with work on Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s Disease under way.

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