The University of Dundee’s world-class reputation in Proteomicsresearch was further confirmed this month by the announcement of two major funding awards that include Dundee Professor Angus Lamond in high-profile cross-University collaborations.

Proteomics involves the detailed study of cell proteins and is widely viewed as the most promising way to understand the root causes of many human and animal diseases. Following the human genome project, proteomics offers the best opportunity to take advantage of genome data for future advances in biology and for the development of safe new drugs.

Professor Lamond is providing proteomics expertise in a £12.75 million Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council (MRC) funded initiative to create a catalogue of high-quality adult stem cells, so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). This initiative will provide a knowledge-base to underpin the use of human stem cells in studying the effects of our genes on health and disease and lay the foundations to create a new iPS cell bank, providing a world-class resource for UK researchers.

The investment will enable researchers to exploit the technology made possible by the discoveries of Professor Sir John Gurdon and Professor Shinya Yamanaka, who this year received a Nobel prize for their pioneering research on how adult cells can be turned into stem cells.

Stem cells are formed naturally in embryos and are able to differentiate into the  specialized cell types found in adults. Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are derived from mature cells of the adult body by winding the clock back and reprogramming them to become stem cells. They have the potential to develop into a wide range of specialised cell types and so are particularly useful for studying the biological mechanisms of disease and exploring the impact of genetic variation on cell behaviour.

The Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative (HIPSCI), which brings together world-leading expertise in clinical genetics, stem cell biology and genomic technologies will generate iPS cells from healthy volunteers and patient groups. Using state of the art techniques, the hiPSCI team will conduct extensive genetic analysis on the cells, and will characterise how the cells respond to specific external stimuli and develop into specialised cell types. This research is expected to drive forward the translation of basic research into improved diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The resulting cell collection and data set will be the UK’s most comprehensive resource for investigating how genetic variation impacts on cell behaviour and how diseases linked to a specific genetic defect can result in a broad spectrum of clinical abnormalities. Professor Angus Lamond’sgroup will carry out proteomic studies on the stem cell collection, working with researchers at King’s College London and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Also announced this week is a  £5.6 million project funded by the BBSRC to study the devastating foot and mouth disease virus (FMDV). This cross-University collaboration, entitled “The Molecular Biology of FMDV Replication: Towards New Methods of FMDV Disease Control”seeksto transform the way FMDV disease will be controlled in the future. Professor Angus Lamond’s group at the University of Dundee will carry out proteomic studies on cells infected with FMDV in collaboration with researchers at the Universities of St Andrews, Leeds and Edinburgh and with scientists working at the BBSRC Pirbright Institute. The research team will investigate how the virus grows in, and interacts with, cells and harness the knowledge to develop a new generation of more effective vaccines and improve diagnosis.

FMDV causes one of the most economically important viral diseases of domestic livestock including cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. Since the disease is endemic in many countries, transmission by international travel and trade presents an on-going potential threat to the UK. It is one of the most contagious mammalian viruses and can infect over 70 species of wildlife, greatly increasing the difficulty of disease control – further complicated by the existence of 7 distinct serotypes with thousands of strains of the virus.

Lead researcher Professor Martin Ryan of the University of St Andrews, said:

“The strength of this project arises from combining the expertise from a multi-disciplinary team and the use of state-of-the art research technologies. Success would stimulate the routine use of vaccine to control FMDV around the globe. This would reduce the global incidence of FMD with enormous economic and social value worldwide.”

Proteomics research, which is a major part of both of these exciting new projects, is set to expand still further at Dundee. The new Centre for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research – under construction at the College of Life Sciences in Dundee and scheduled for completion at the end of 2013 – will include a floor devoted to proteomics and data analysis. This has been funded through a major recent award to the University of Dundee from the UK Research Infrastructure Partnership Fund. The Centre will integrate expertise in cell biology, mass spectrometry, proteomics, “big-data” analytics, computer science, bioinformatics, biophysics and drug discovery to exploit the potential of the human genome project for healthcare and the development of safer drugs.

Professor Lamond said, “This is very exciting time because the new advances in proteomics offer a way to transform our understanding of how cells function and to understand the root causes of many forms of disease.”

Professor Mike Ferguson, Dean of the School of Research at the College of Life Sciences, added, “These are important pan-institute “big science” projects, with their quantitative proteomics components lead by my colleague Prof Angus Lamond. They palpably illustrate the standing of Angus and his team in that field and also demonstrate, along with other major developments in the pipeline, why we have invested in new estate and infrastructure in the form the Centre for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research, despite the financial climate. Our intention is to make sure that scientific innovation thrives and helps to build the local and National economies.”