Issue date: 14 April 2003

ISSUE DATE: 14/04/03

The University of the West of England has opened its new Bristol Genomics Research Institute which uses the very latest technology to study the genes of humans and plants.

The suite of new laboratories, funded by the University with money from the HEFCE Science Research Investment Fund (SRIF) will support leading edge research in this field.

A team of international researchers will work at the frontiers of knowledge creation developing new diagnostics and screens for detecting and monitoring disease to support the development of new therapies and drugs.

Having mapped the human genome, scientists are now focusing on the ways in which genes are activated and converted into proteins within cells. Proteomics is the study of which proteins are made in cells and why only certain genes are activated from the thousands present in each cell. By understanding how genes are ‘switched on’ scientists hope to discover new methods of screening for diseases and genetic disorders in humans as well as looking at these processes in plants.

Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences, Professor Wendy Purcell said, “This new laboratory is a significant University investment in its science base and our leading researchers are now among the best equipped staff in the region. We plan to use our cutting edge technology in genome science to generate new knowledge relevant to improving our understanding of disease in humans and plants and to assist with the development of new diagnostics and therapies.” She added, “The new Institute is already attracting new staff and research money to help us unravel the genetic basis of disease, ably supported by our team of senior postdoctoral and reasearch students. Some 15 new PhD students joined the Institute this year and many of our undergraduate and postgraduate students undertake projects in human and plant genetics.”

Two of the leading scientists involved in the project are professors Neil Avent (human biomedicine) and Steven Neill (plant science). Together they will lead a team of around 30 staff in the new Institute.

Steven Neill said, “Molecular research at UWE is aimed at increasing the quality of life for humans and animals by advancing our understanding of normal growth and development and how this goes wrong during disease. In addition, plant scientists like myself are looking at improving plants so that we can produce more and better products that are increasingly required by society.”

Neil Avent said, “In future the treatment of human disease will be highly individualised. Drug therapy will be tailor-made to an individual’s genetic makeup. Scientists at UWE are working to understand why an individual’s genes respond differently to disease, and where therapy can be improved in response to this knowledge.”


Editor’s notes

The Bristol Genomics Research Institute will be officially opened by Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) at a launch event arranged for the start of the new academic year in September.

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