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50th anniversary
  • Celebrations begin to commemorate 50 years of the University of Dundee

    2017
  • The University of Dundee becomes a fully independent institution under the terms of the Royal Charter.

    1967
  • Ordinances issued in 1897 made University College form part of St Andrews. and establish a Faculty of Medicine.

    1897
  • The Deed formally creating University College Dundee was signed by founders Miss Mary Ann Baxter and her cousin Dr John Boyd Baxter.

    1881

Life Sciences

  • date

    Fri, 01 Dec 2017

  • Running Time

    00:08:25

'Dundee University is an excellent example of what can be achieved.' So said then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Donald Dewar

Episode Transcript

'Dundee University is an excellent example of what can be achieved.' So said then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Donald Dewar, on a 1998 visit to the University's School of Life Sciences, which he described as, "a world class centre of research in the biosciences".

The then and current success of Dundee Life Sciences is the culmination of a journey started in 1881 by Mary Ann Baxter, notable philanthropist of the City of Dundee, who created an institute for "promoting the education of persons of both sexes and the study of Science, Literature and the Fine Arts. By 1910 every one of the thirteen ‘chairs’ at University College was in a science subject, and remembered names like mathematical biologist Darcy Thompson attest to the calibre of the staff.

But Life Sciences, and its current worldwide renown in research, owes much to events after the University became independent of St Andrews in 1967. Until the 1970s, the biochemistry department was a small one with limited funding and an apparent uncertain future. The arrival of Peter Garland in 1970 to be Professor in the new 'Chair' of Biochemistry recognised the opportunities this afforded; a move that paid remarkable and sustained dividends. It is almost 50 years since Garland, a remarkable scientist making major contributions in the field of metabolism, took the overnight sleeper from King's Cross to Dundee, to accept a position following interview at the University's Tower Building. His academic colleagues back at Bristol expressed surprise and condolences that he was off to a place that wasn't on their maps. Thanks to the then staff at Dundee and the many new recruits to Life Sciences over the years maps have been and continue to be redrawn.

A single-minded character, Garland insisted that it was only by employing the best that the best results would be achieved. He appointed the young Philip Cohen to a lectureship in 1971. Cohen's work over a number of years on a process called protein phosphorylation which is central to the regulation of most aspects of the ways cells in our body function, had a huge contribution both to the life sciences academic community but also in alerting the pharmaceutical industry to one of the most important classes of drug target. Cohen would take Garland's 'people' ideas and run further with them, aided by a supportive University Principal at the time in Adam Neville. Sir Philip recruited many brilliant researchers, including cancer and cell biologist duo Sir David and Birgit Lane, immunologist Doreen Cantrell, parasitologists Mike Ferguson and Alan Fairlamb, microbiologist Tracy Palmer, developmental biologists Cheryl Tickle and Kate Storey, quantitative biologist Angus Lamond and cell-signalling experts like Grahame Hardie, Dario Alessi and our current Principal Sir Pete Downes and Dean of Life Sciences Julian Blow. It is a strategy that exists to this day and its merit is clear in the success story.

The transformation and growth of Life Sciences in Dundee is perhaps best symbolised by the changing nature of the building housing Life Sciences at the University. In the 1960s biochemistry was confined to a small run down building believed to have been converted from a former stable block. The School of Life Sciences now has over 900 staff and students from over 60 countries housed in state of the art laboratory and teaching space. This includes the most recent development led by Mike Ferguson, the Discovery Centre for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research, which houses researchers moving blue skies discovery science towards societal application and brings scientists together in an environment that facilitates scientific innovation.

Today, the School is an international centre for excellence in molecular cell biology, and this fundamental discovery science is its beating heart. At the same time, Dundee is seen as a beacon for 'scientific translation'. The School's Drug Discovery Unit is actively developing drugs for the treatment of neglected tropical diseases including malaria, leishmaniasis, Chagas' disease, and tuberculosis and translating innovative drug targets in cancer, eczema, neurodegeneration, inflammation, anti-bacterials and anti-virals. The School is collaborating with the world's major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies in the fight against diseases such as cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and tropical diseases. And many researchers are involved in major environmental issues like the development of new bio-fuels and bio-energy generation. Students taking undergraduate degrees in Life Sciences are directly informed and energized by the excellence of the research in Dundee.

The strength of the life sciences research base has played a key role in developing local Biotech, with Life Sciences representing 16% of the Tayside economy. As described by Richard Horton, the present Editor in Chief of the Lancet, the "city is a life sciences hub dedicated to exhilarating research and extraordinary impact". With major recent investments in innovative discovery and translation, Dundee is continuing to grow and build on excellence, nurturing the next generation of scientific talent to maximize its impact as one of the leading centres in Europe for life sciences research.

 

Brian Cox

Brian Cox

Brian Cox is a world renowned Scottish actor who works with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he gained recognition for his portrayal of King Lear. Cox is also known for appearing in The Bourne IdentityThe Bourne SupremacyX2BraveheartRushmoreRise of the Planet of the ApesTroy and Doctor Who. He was the first actor to portray Hannibal Lecter on film in 1986's Manhunter.

 An Emmy Award-winner, Cox has also been nominated for Golden GlobeBAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Awards. In 2006, Empire readers voted him the recipient of the Empire Icon Award.

 Brian was born and raised in Dundee and was Rector of the University of Dundee for six years from 2010.

All podcasts

  • Celebrations begin to commemorate 50 years of the University of Dundee

    2017
  • The University of Dundee becomes a fully independent institution under the terms of the Royal Charter.

    1967
  • Ordinances issued in 1897 made University College form part of St Andrews. and establish a Faculty of Medicine.

    1897
  • The Deed formally creating University College Dundee was signed by founders Miss Mary Ann Baxter and her cousin Dr John Boyd Baxter.

    1881
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