The Diamond Professorial Fellowship of approximately £2 million has been awarded to Professor Iwata, who analyses important proteins found in the membranes of human cells, for a five-year project to study the structure and behaviour of ‘transporter’ proteins embedded in the oily membranes that coat the cells in our bodies.
"Structural biology is an important part of modern biology and so it is vital that we have ways to uncover the detailed physical structure of biological molecules and complexes. Synchrotron radiation sources, such as the Diamond Light Source, offer the most powerful and advanced ways of acquiring this information. "Finding structural information about proteins that normally reside in cell or other membranes is still one of the biggest challenges in this area of research. Our Diamond Professorial Fellow, Professor So Iwata, has been especially successful in finding the structures of a number of very complex membrane proteins and these will continue to be the focus of his Fellowship."
Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC
Professor Iwata will use the BBSRC Fellowship funding to set up a new laboratory in the Medical Research Council’s research complex at Harwell – next door to Diamond – where he and his team will prepare membrane proteins for analysis at the synchrotron.
The transporter proteins that Professor Iwata is particularly interested in are responsible for the uptake and release of various substances - including sugars, amino acids, drugs and minerals - into or out of the cell. As such, they play crucial roles in many important biological functions, and are important potential targets for new drugs to treat a large number of diseases.
Understanding more about these proteins’ molecular structures and how they work is vital, explains Professor Iwata:
“These transporter proteins are the gateway to our cells, so they’re massively important, but very little is known about them, or how exactly they work. Our aim is to solve the structure of some of these proteins in order to improve our basic understanding of life at the molecular level. “Additionally, if we can unravel the secrets of these proteins’ functions, then drug developers could use this knowledge to design new small-molecule drugs that target and inhibit one of these individual proteins, without interfering with others nearby, thus reducing patient side effects,” he said.
“The UK is already a world leader in biosciences research. These fellowships from BBSRC will help us maintain our lead and give some of our most outstanding bioscientists an extra boost. "It is vital that we nurture scientists throughout their careers, as they will be essential to helping us tackle the major challenges we face."
All 16 Fellowships allow researchers to concentrate exclusively on conducting world-class research to tackle serious scientific questions. The 2009 BBSRC Fellows will be tackling bioscience issues including increasing crop yields, accelerated therapeutic drug development and better understanding of the natural world.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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