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New study investigates how cells work and how they can help beat cancer and heart disease

Published: 8 April 2009

A University of Southampton scientist is embarking on major biochemical research into how cells work, which could pave the way for new insights into diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Chris Proud, Professor of Cellular Regulation of the University’s School of Biological Sciences, has secured three major grants, totalling £2 million, over the next five years to investigate the internal operations of cells and probe what causes them to malfunction. Cellular changes are key factors in many conditions such as cancers, heart disease, diabetes and brain diseases.

The grants are from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation.

The BBSRC grant will finance an examination of how cells normally make proteins and how small changes in a key component involved in this can cause major problems. Such changes are causative factors in many conditions such as cancers, heart disease, diabetes and brain diseases. Professor Proud is collaborating with scientists at the Free University of Amsterdam who are undertaking clinical work on an inherited brain disease that affects children.

The Wellcome Trust grant is also for research into how cells make proteins. One in particular, mTOR, regulates the cell’s activities and can cause cancers and other conditions if it malfunctions.

The British Heart Foundation grant is to explore what drives heart cells to grow to abnormal sizes, giving rise to cardiac hypertrophy, a thickening of the heart muscle which can cause sudden death, often in young people.

Professor Proud says: “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 diseases. We need to understand how and why small changes in a key internal component of a cell can cause it to stop working normally.”

Notes for editors

The three research grants are £665,000 from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), £1.33 million from the Wellcome Trust and £187,000 from the British Heart Foundation. Eight new researchers will be recruited to assist with the laboratory work.

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