Wellcome boost for structural biologists

A pair of Leicester researchers studying the molecular machinery that controls gene expression have been awarded £3.89 million in research funding by the Wellcome Trust.

Professors John Schwabe and Daniel Panne are members of the Leicester Institute of Structural and Chemical Biology and Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. They have both been granted prestigious Wellcome Trust Investigator Awards for their projects investigating different aspects of how our genetic material is regulated.

Professor Schwabe has been awarded £2.34 million to investigate the structure, mechanism and regulation of histone deacetylase complexes (HDACs), which control whether genes are in an active ‘open’ state or an inactive ‘closed’ state. These complexes are important drug targets for the treatment of diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and HIV.

Professor Panne has been awarded £1.55 million to investigate how chromosomes in our cells are folded in a precise manner so as to fit into the cell nucleus, with the contact between folded segments of DNA critical to how genes are regulated and therefore key to human biology.

Professor Schwabe, Director of the Leicester Institute of Structural and Chemical Biology, said: “Understanding how genes are regulated is one of the greatest and most important challenges in biology.”

Professor Panne, Professor of Structural Biology, will investigate the role of cohesin – a ring-shaped molecule – in the process of DNA folding, as well as the mechanism behind gene regulation.

He said: “The link between genome folding and regulation is a new frontier in biomedical research. We are very pleased that the Wellcome Trust recognises the importance of this research area and its potential in understanding how genome misfolding contributes to disease.”

The Wellcome Trust is a politically and financially independent global charitable foundation, which provides grant funding, advocacy campaigns and other partnerships to find solutions to urgent health challenges.

The University of Leicester delivers cutting-edge health research, with studies into cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis as well as ground-breaking research into the effects of COVID-19.

Professor John Challiss is Head of Department for Molecular and Cell Biology, of which both Professor Schwabe and Panne are principal investigators (PIs).

He said: “The work of Daniel Panne and John Schwabe is at the cutting-edge of their respective fields and I am absolutely delighted that this research excellence has been recognised by the Wellcome Trust through these very well-deserved programme awards.

“The Department and Institute have also received substantial recent awards from the MRC and BBSRC supporting our internationally recognised strength in fundamental discovery biology research.”

Explore more of the University’s world-changing research into human health.