Dundee: The City of Many Discoveries

Published on 23 July 2020

While the city may historically be known as the home of ‘Jute, Jam and Journalism,’ Dundee is forging a modern day reputation as a hub for scientific research

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Central to this has been the University of Dundee, where not only are we leading the fight to tackle the threat of Covid-19, which you can read about elsewhere within this edition of The Bridge, but a host of other modern day challenges.

Progress requires research. It takes dedication and often years of hard work, pushing the boundaries of science and logic. Research is a way of life, but nobody ever said changing the world would be easy.

And at the end of it all, if the seed of an idea has blossomed into a successful project, then the ability to impact the world cannot be understated. These words that you read right now are most likely being done so on a screen so thin you can hold it in the palm of your hand. What’s more, that is technology that was not developed in a Japanese skyscraper or Californian industrial estate, but right here in Dundee.

Parkinson’s Disease

One of our biggest research projects at present is looking at Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is among the fastest growing neurological conditions in the world, and around 145,000 people in the UK alone are living with the disease. At present there is no cure, with no new drug to help sufferers having emerged in more than 50 years. It’s a disease that presents a formidable challenge to any researcher, but it is one that scientists at Dundee have accepted.

Professor Miratul Muqit, a researcher at the University of Dundee’s School of Life Sciences and MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit, and a Consultant Neurologist, says, “We want to find better treatments for patients and we want to be able to find new ways of refining the process and making diagnosis more timely. The way we diagnose Parkinson’s is the same as it was 100 years ago.”

He and his colleagues have already made great progress, chipping away at the complex cellular activity that underlies Parkinson’s and giving real hope that we are moving closer to finding the targets that drugs could be developed to 'hit’ and slow down or stop Parkinson’s.

Recent successes have including finding the PINK1 protein substrates Parkin and Ubiquitin, discovering that Parkin and Ubiquitin form a complex to cope with mitochondrial damage, solving the atomic structure of PINK1 with Prof Daan van Aalten, and confirming the central importance of the PINK1-Parkin switch mechanism in Parkinson’s patients.

The researchers in Dundee have also established links with patient groups leading to the Dundee Research Interest Group (DRIG) which enables young team members to engage with patients and their carers.

Meanwhile, Professor Dario Alessi has directed his attention to LRRK2, an important target enzyme that is activated in Parkinson’s. He has led international collaborations which have discovered more about LRRK2 works and have identified a set of proteins which are affected by it.

But while these steps are hugely encouraging, unlocking the secrets of Parkinson’s is a complex process. To support this valuable research, the University is preparing to publically launch the Dundee Parkinson’s Research Campaign, which will allow our experts to fulfil their potential and to establish the University as the global centre for Parkinson’s research.

Male Contraceptive

We are also making continued progress to transform contraception. A research team, backed by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are continuing work to develop a new male contraceptive.

The team at Dundee, led by Professor Chris Barratt, are working towards finding a safe and effective male contraceptive, and have this year unveiled their latest advance, with the arrival of a fully automated robotic screening system which allows them to rapidly test the effect of drugs and other chemicals on human sperm.

Lung Disease

Meanwhile, the University recently announced that a drug which reduces the risk of people living with a chronic lung disease from needing antibiotics or emergency hospital treatment could soon be a reality. The final results from the Phase 2 WILLOW study were announced by James Chalmers, British Lung Foundation Professor of Respiratory Research, at the University’s School of Medicine earlier this year.

And these projects are just the tip of the iceberg of the work taking place.  While the watching world may remain focused on the battle against Covid-19, our experts continue their work to address many of the major scientific challenges of our time, pushing boundaries and transforming expectations. The pursuit of progress never ends.

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