12 November 2003
Funding to fight Third World Disease
A £1.66 million award has been made to scientists at the University of Dundee to expand their research in
the fight against a potentially deadly third-world disease.
The parasite Trypanosoma brucei is transmitted by the bite of a tstse-fly causing human African sleeping sickness. This disease, which causes character disintegration, coma and death if not treated, kills over 60,000 people a year in
Africa. A related cattle disease, called Nagana, also prevents cattle farming in vast areas of Africa.
Professors Michael Ferguson and Geoff Barton have received a five year Wellcome Trust Programme Grant of £
1.66 million to study "Trypanosome Glycomics".
The project will study the cell-surface of the parasite and how it makes molecules that allow it to infect humans
and animals. The work will involve collaboration between the groups of Professor Ferguson and Professor Barton and will bring the power of modern super-computers and high-tech analytical equipment to investigate
this third-world disease. Their aim is to progress drug-leads that have emerged from our current research and to identify and exploit new drug targets against the African trypanosome.
Professor Ferguson said "The current drugs to treat human African sleeping sickness are based on arsenic and are
extremely poor. New, safer, medicines are urgently needed. Because of the low health-care budgets in sub-Saharan Africa (about 10 pounds per person per year, compared with over 2 to 3 thousand pounds per person per
year in the developed world) the pharmaceutical industry is not interested in developing medicines for these, and many other tropical diseases. University-based research is therefore critical to the search for new
medicines to combat these appalling diseases."
The award will see the employment of three biochemists and one synthetic organic chemist to assist with the
Professors Ferguson and Barton are Principal Investigators in the Division of Biological Chemistry and Molecular
Microbiology in the School of Life Sciences.
Professor Ferguson's research seeks to understand the biochemistry of protozoan parasites that cause tropical
diseases, like African Sleeping Sickness, Chagas' disease and malaria, and the design and synthesis of potential drug-leads against these diseases.
Bioinformatics, the subject of Professor Barton's research, lies at the interface between computer science and
biology. His research aims to develop high performance computer methods to identify the most interesting proteins from the flood of information coming from biological research worldwide. A further goal is to
develop computer modelling techniques that make use of the latest advances in software to generate accurate models of proteins and other molecules without the need for experiment./ENDS
Note for Editors:
The Wellcome Trust is an independent, research funding charity, established under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome
in 1936. The Trust's mission is to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health. Website: www.wellcome.ac.uk