15 June 2010

£1.6 million centre to develop new drugs from our seas’ natural resources

A new £1.6 million centre, which will harness the potential of natural resources from the depths of the world’s oceans to treat diseases such as cancer, will officially open its doors today (Tuesday June 15).

The University of Aberdeen Marine Biodiscovery Centre is focusing on research into the development of new medicines from unique marine organisms.

It is one of only three in Europe dedicated to the exploration of the natural resources from our seas, and one of very few in the world to bring together chemists and biologists to work together on the development of new pharmaceuticals.

World leading minds in the area of biomedicine and biotechnology will convene at the University today for a two day symposium, to officially launch the centre.

Funded by the University’s College of Physical Sciences and Development Trust, the centre houses globally unique technology, facilities and state-of-the-art equipment which is part funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Facilities include a library containing hundreds of pure compounds and thousands of extracts from organisms sourced from across the globe - including the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans located in the western Pacific Ocean.

The library – which has received financial support from the Scottish Universities Life Science Alliance – is available for use in biological research and drug discovery by the academic community and industry.

The equipment which will be used to analyse compounds from marine and other sources includes a magnet, 250,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field which will be used to interrogate the chemical structure of molecules, and a system which can identify how metals occur in living organisms and in the environment.

Examples of research being conducted at the centre - which is located in the Meston Building on the University’s King’s College campus and has a dedicated staff of 7 - include:

  • The use of bacteria sourced from the world’s deepest oceans to find compounds to treat bacterial infections and parasitic diseases.

 

  • Obtaining fungi from Fijian coral reef organisms which produce compounds which may be used to treat cancer and inflammatory diseases.

 

  • Using analytical techniques to learn how mammals fight bacterial infections by starving the bacteria of the essential metals they need to thrive.

Professor Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, said:“The new Marine Biodiscovery Centre positions the University of Aberdeen at the international forefront of research into the discovery of new medicines, using the vast and unique natural resources found in the world’s oceans.

“One of the first interdisciplinary centres of its kind in the world, it draws together the University’s research strengths in chemistry and biological and medical sciences.

“The globally unique technologies and equipment housed in the Marine Biodiscovery Centre will allow our scientists to expand their capabilities in addressing the challenges of developing new products which could advance the treatment of diseases such as cancer.

“The library facility will also open the door for industry to use the centre to advance their research and development.”

Professor Marcel Jaspars, Director of the Marine Biodiscovery Centre said: “The greatest diversity of life on our planet can be found in the world’s seas in the form of marine organisms which live in a huge variety of habitats.”

“Scientists at the University of Aberdeen have been conducting research exploring how the rich and diverse range of unique compounds which exist in these organisms can be used in the development of drugs and other novel biomedical products, for a number of years.

“The creation of the new Marine Biodiscovery Centre is allowing us to advance our research using state-of-the-art technologies, and work towards important new breakthroughs in this crucial area of medical discovery.”

Nearly one hundred academics and representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, from countries including the USA, Norway and Spain, will meet at the University for the Marine Biodiscovery Research and Applications symposium.

The two day event will include keynote speeches by world leading experts in the field of biodiscovery, including Professor Dan Morse from the University of California, who has conducted groundbreaking work into how shells are made and how sponges make glass, and Simon Munt from PharmaMar, a pharmaceutical company responsible for bringing a novel marine derived compound into clinical treatment for cancer.

The symposium is sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network, Thermo Scientific, Varian Inc, Syngenta, Aquapharm Biodiscovery and Glycomar.

For more information on the Marine Biodiscovery Centre visit www.abdn.ac.uk/~wpe018/research/biodiscovery/.

For more information on the Marine Biodiscovery Research and Applications symposium visit: www.abdn.ac.uk/~che395/MBC/Programme.htm

Notes for Editors

Biodiscovery is the discovery of compounds from natural sources to treat disease. It also encompasses the use of ideas inspired by nature to develop novel biomedicines.

Biodiscovery generates novel chemistry that may be used to find initial biological activity in tests for cancer, inflammation and infection amongst others.

The broad concept of biodiscovery also includes the use of these compounds and ideas as biomedical research tools, antifoulants, catalysts, nutritional supplements (nutraceuticals) and personal care products (cosmeceuticals).

The marine environment provides a broad range of diverse habitats from which novel sources of natural products can be derived. Studies from around the world have shown that marine organisms produce a diverse array of metabolites with novel chemical structures and potent biological activities as well as other desirable properties.


Issued by the Communications Team
Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen
Tel: +44 (0)1224 272014

Contact: Kelly Potts
Issued on: 15 June 2010
Ref: 211MARINEBIO


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