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Recipients:
University College London
University of Oxford
Amounts:
£0 - £500

Results

Effects of sex on metabolic homeostasis in old age 31 May 2018

The main aim of our research is to determine the differences in the lifespan and physiology of male and female Drosophila melanogaster in response to increased levels of sugar (sucrose) in the diet. Current human diets are detrimental to health and obesogenic. The health outcomes are dependent on the sex of the individual, however the molecular and physiological mechanisms are not understood. The results of our study will help establish a Drosophila model that can be used to understand how nutrition and sex interact, which might contribute to a healthier lifestyle choices in humans leading to healthy ageing. The effects of diet on lifespan and diet-induced obesity of the two sexes will be recorded, as well as the feeding behaviour using the proboscis extension assay and blue-food assay. Gut morphology/function will also be examined since the gut appears to underlie the different response of the sexes to increased dietary protein. In particular, we will focus on age-induced hyperplasia by determining the number of proliferating cells (stained with anti-phospho-Histone 3). We will also monitor gut function by assessing the leakiness of the gut using a blue food. Finally, statistical analysis using suitable regression models will be performed in R.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Novel statistical methodology for rare variant association in a case-control cohort 30 Sep 2018

Genetic association studies focusing on common variation have uncovered only a fraction of proposed trait heritability. Some of this so-called missing heritability will be found within rare variation in the population. This hypothesis is supported by the facts that recent explosive population growth has increased the population burden of rare variants and deleterious variants are kept at low allele frequencies. All genetic susceptibility to disease is caused by alterations to the genes or their expression and for this reason it seems fruitful to focus an association study on the genes themselves. Any associations found are then directly informative about the molecular basis of disease without the need for fine mapping. The proposed project aims to develop a statistical method to find genes associated with disease by analysing the rare variation present in a case-control cohort. We aim to extend existing methods by including a previously unconsidered parameter; the position of the variants in a gene. In scenarios where differences in clustering or distribution of variants are observed between cases and controls, this method will have a substantial increase in power. This technique will be useful for elucidating the molecular mechanisms causing the disease and thus discovering new therapeutic targets.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford

Design and evaluation of a modified vaccinia Ankara vector therapeutic vaccine for hepatitis B immunotherapy 30 Sep 2018

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a serious global health problem, with approximately 240 million people chronically infected. Long-term infection can lead liver failure, cancer and death. Current therapy controls but does not eradicate the infection. T cells are a type of immune cell necessary to fight HBV. During chronic hepatitis B these cells become less active. Checkpoint inhibitors are a form of immunotherapy that enables T cells to function again. In a study of woodchucks infected with a similar virus to HBV, treatment with vaccine and checkpoint inhibitor lead to better control of the virus. This project aims to use this combination of vaccine and checkpoint inhibitor, to treat patients with chronic HBV. A vaccine using a virus to carry the HBV proteins has been developed and shown to generate good immune responses in mice. We plan to develop a second vaccine to boost this response and test the vaccines together with checkpoint inhibitors in mice infected with the HBV virus. This will allow us to assess how effective this is at eradicating HBV. If the results from this study are promising, this could pave the way for clinical trials in humans with chronic HBV.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford

Probing nucleotide interactions with Kir6.2 using fluorescence spectroscopy. 30 Sep 2018

The ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channel is a plasma membrane protein present in beta cells of the pacreas which plays a key role in insulin secretion. KATP acts as a metabolic sensor, alerting the beta cells when blood glucose raises too high and stimulating them to release insulin. In diabetes, normal KATP function is disrupted and beta cells no longer secrete insulin properly in response to blood glucose levels. The molecular structure of the channel is closely linked to its function; there have been several genetic studies linking various mutations (which often only affect one molecule in the channel!) to neonatal diabetes or increased propensity to type II diabetes. Our research aims to identify precisely how these small mutations can have such drastic changes in the activity of the channel by using a combination of fluorescent labels and channel current measurements to watch the KATP channel move in real time. We can then try to construct a model of how the channel converts different stimuli into movements, and how this is affected in mutations linked to diabetes.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford

Neuronal encoding of complex three-dimensional environments 31 May 2018

This proposed research intends to investigate the brain representation of complex, multilayered three-dimensional environments in free-roaming rodents by detecting electrical neuronal activities. With the assumption that the grid cell can form a lattice representation in a volumetric space, the main goal of this project is to test this hypothesis and construct more detailed mosaic neuronal models. From the previous experimental evidence, the grid cell plays a pivotal role in distance-measuring by forming a grid-like array on a flat surface, however, how this array is remodelled in vertical or tilled surface remains debatable. In this project, rats will be allowed to explore in a giant lattice model with options of climbing up or down, dwelling forwards or backwards while looking for rewards. The neuronal activities in rat's hippocampus will be collected, reconstructed into a 3D model. If the hypothesis is to be correct, the 3D cognition map is suggested to be a multiple evenly-spaced neuron filed distributed volumetrically (figure1, D and E). Otherwise, the field might be distributed in parallel columns vertical to the ground, as the extension of the 2D hexagonal array (figure 1, C).

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Learning the Signatures of Cancer 30 Sep 2018

Cancer is a genetic disease that is the second leading cause of death worldwide. Developing effective personalised therapies requires characterisation of the genetic factors driving malignancy. This is challenging as cancer is highly complex, heterogeneous, and dependent on cellular context. Cancer stratification aims to group cancers that share similar features, and are therefore likely to respond similarly to treatment, however, current stratification methods ignore many important genetic and epigenetic markers that likely influence cancer pathology, which would result in sub-optimal treatment. We propose to use whole genome-and-epigenome profiling and machine learning to extract clinically meaningful features of the host and cancer genomes that can be used to improve patient stratification and reveal novel cancer subtypes. As a proof of principle, we will apply these methods to predict the site of origin in patients with metastatic cancer but unknown primary (CUP), which could help improve diagnosis and prognosis for patients with this complex disease. We envision the robust stratification of cancer patients using genome profiling could lead to direct prediction of optimal treatment decision for all cancer patients.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford

Spontaneous and induced network dynamics across cortical layers during waking and sleep in mice 30 Sep 2018

No one can live without sleep. Even if we try very hard to stay awake, we ultimately can’t resist to fall asleep. Various brain functions, such as the abilities to remember and concentrate, decline when we get tired and improve with sleep. Therefore, it is thought that especially the brain needs sleep and determines when it is time to disconnect and recover. The goal of my research is to understand the brain machinery, which controls sleep and wakefulness. My research requires working with mice as I need to use a genetic tool to switch on and off specific brain cells for a short period of time to find out their role in sleep regulation. I will observe whether the brain can still coordinate its systematic shut down when we turn off cells, which are thought to measure the duration of wakefulness and initiate sleep. I aim to find out whether specific cells can measure how long the brain has been awake and send out signals to coordinate the systematic shut down of many brain regions when falling asleep. I hope that my experiments contribute to an understanding of healthy and disturbed sleep.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford

Identification and Validation of the Determinants of Variation in T cell Immunity in Health and in Inherited Immunodeficiency Syndromes 30 Sep 2018

Vaccination is a powerful strategy to prevent infectious diseases, by stimulating our immune system to produce antibodies. However, vaccines have not been as successful in boosting immunity against infections that require a different defence called T-cells. This problem is exemplified by tuberculosis, which causes more deaths than any other infection despite the use of the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, because the protection provided by BCG is variable. I aim to understand why BCG only works in some people. I will investigate the idea that differences in T-cell activation in different people are responsible for differences in the protective effects of BCG. In healthy individuals, I will test T-cell activation in response to a general stimulus. Using these data, I will develop a mathematical model to understand how variation in T-cell responses comes about. I will then In BCG-vaccinate the same individuals and test if my model explains all the variability in responses to BCG and in T-cell control of tuberculosis. These experiments may reveal the molecular switches that are responsible for differences in BCG efficacy. By testing cells from patients with genetic abnormalities in some of these molecules, I will validate their role in providing effective T-cell immunity.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Investigating the role of mtch-1 in age-related proteostasis collapse 31 May 2018

The loss of protein homeostasis (proteostasis) is associated with many age-associated diseases, most notably Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. Despite this, the factors that control the vulnerability of cells to proteostasis collapse with age are poorly understood. Using the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system, we have identified the highly conserved gene mtch-1, as a new proteostasis regulator. mtch-1 encodes a mitochondrial outer membrane protein of unknown function, the knockdown of which, enhances resistance to environmental stress, maintains cytosolic proteostasis with age, and extends lifespan. However, it is unknown how these beneficial effects are mediated. This project will determine which protein quality control (PQC) components are necessary for mtch-1 to influence protein aggregation. We will use fluorescent reporters to determine the effects of mtch-1 on the activity of PQC pathways, and perform an RNA interference screen of known PQC components to determine which, if any, are necessary for the loss of mtch-1 to suppress protein aggregation. These experiments will allow us to build a picture of the previously unexplored link between mtch-1 and changes in cytosolic proteostasis with age, thereby highlighting a new aspect of PQC that could be manipulated to promote long-term health.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

High dose iminosugar treatment: Investigation of a new antiviral mechanism of action 30 Sep 2018

Antiviral iminosugars inhibit endoplasmic reticulum (ER) a-glucosidases I and II (a-Glu), which induces misfolding of viral N-linked glycoproteins. ER a-GluII inhibition leads to the release of fewer infectious viruses in vitro and in vivo, and can protect mice from DENV- and influenza lethal challenge. We observed that inhibition of ER a-GluI can lead to similar life-saving effects in mice, even if enzyme inhibition is short lived and achieved by administration of a single dose of the drug. This is sufficient to create long-lived triglucosylated protein species that can prevent secretion of infectious virus for some time. We aim to understand this process. I first will establish cell lines that can be hosts for the viruses I am investigating in which to re-capitulate in vivo observations. I shall then proceed to identify which protein(s) are responsible for the long-lasting antiviral effect, why they are not degraded, and how they can exert an antiviral effect for longer than enzyme inhibition. This work may lead to new ways of treating viral diseases such as dengue, influenza and hepatitis B, prophylactically and/or therapeutically. Moreover, a field trip to Vietnam is planned to take advantage of clinical samples.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford

Investigation of the structural and conformational preferences of ribosome-bound nascent chains using NMR paramagnetic relaxation enhancement measurements 31 May 2018

Co-translational folding is best studied by providing high-resolution structural descriptions of nascent polypeptides (NCs) as they emerge from the ribosome. This is achieved by producing snapshots of the process using ribosome-associated-nascent chains(RNCs) and developing 3D structural models by combining NMR spectroscopy as experimental restraints within MD simulations. The emerging NC is a dynamic entity that searches conformational space in its quest for acquiring its correct structure; it undergoes both transient interactions with itself and the external surface of its ribosome. This Scholarship aims to develop novel distance-based, PRE (paramagnetic-relaxation-enhancement) NMR measurements of RNCs to evaluate these transient processes. Over 8 weeks, this project will enable us to develop strategies to selectively label RNCs with the MTSL "spin-labels" at a single cysteine site, by adapting well-established RNC technology. We will study two RNCs "snapshots" which capture early folding transition for an immunoglobulin protein. We will characterise the structural properties of the modified RNCs using 2D NMR spectroscopy, and quantitate possible transient interactions/compaction events by collecting PRE measurements. We will also initiate MD simulations with the new experimental restraints that have been acquired. These approaches will advance our current 3D structural models to dissect further molecular details of co-translational protein folding.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Integrated interdisciplinary approaches to design new anti-bacterials with novel mechanisms of action to tackle antimicrobial resistance in Tuberculosis 30 Sep 2018

Tuberculosis (TB) remains a serious threat to global health. The World Health Organisation estimate that 10.4 million new cases were contracted in 2015, and that over 500,000 of those cases were resistant to at least one of the antibiotics currently used to treat this condition. The spread of such resistance is a serious concern and as a result there is a need for the development of new drugs to combat TB. Recent work has identified two classes of molecule which have promising anti-tubercular properties: tetrahydroisoquinolines and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. My project will focus on the development of new anti-bacterials from these classes of molecule while exploring the reasons behind their anti-tubercular properties. This will be achieved through a combination of chemistry and molecular microbiology, making use of both laboratory and computational techniques.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Co-evolution of tumour mutational and CD4 T-cell differentiation landscapes 30 Sep 2018

Lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and the greatest cause of cancer-related death. A type of this disease called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for the majority (85%) of cases. T-lymphocyte cells (T-cells) of the immune system patrol the body and can recognise and destroy cancer cells by recognising mutated proteins (neoantigens) on them. Despite this, the majority of patients with advanced lung cancer die of the disease, indicating the ineffective function of the immune system. In particular, little is known about the role of a particular group of immune cells called T-helper cells that are thought to be important. In chronic infections where T-cells are constantly exposed to their targets, they become less responsive as younger cells are driven to turn into later ones more rapidly. As younger cells are lost, the body's ability to fight the infection reduces. In cancer, it is possible that mutations drive a similar problem. Using lung cancer specimens from patients on a clinical trial and animal models of cancer, we propose to study the question of whether and how mutations can paralyse the ability of T-helper cells to fight the disease.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Behavioural and Histopathological Characterisation of APP-KI Alzheimer Mice Models 31 May 2018

The project would involve behavioural and histopathological studies of a mouse model of Alzheimer's Disease. The transgenic mouse, Amyloid Precursor Protein Knock-In (APP-KI) expresses human-like amyloid plaques in the absence of other APP fragments and, hence, represents the best APP model currently available. They will be injected with tau, in order to mimic the combination of pathological changes that occur in human Alzheimer's-disease-affected brains. The main goals of the project involve establishing the exact time-course over which the Alzheimer's-like phenotype develops, correlating the number of human-like amyloid plaques with the extent of the memory deficit in the APP-KI mice with and without tau, and finally establishing whether there is any underlying neuronal cell death in the tau-injected mice. The first four weeks of the project would involve a battery of behavioural tests to include Open Field activity, Novel Object Recognition, Object Location and spatial T-maze testing in order to identify behavioural changes/memory deficits in the APP-KI and the APP-KI + tau animals when compared to wild type litter-mates. Afterwards the animals would be sacrificed, their brains removed and sectioned. The brain sections would be stained and histopathological changes (e.g. amyloid plaque volume and tau filaments) correlated with behavioural changes.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Investigating prevention of cervical cancer, disease burden, and opportunities for improvement in inclusion health women (IHW) 30 Sep 2018

Cervical cancer is preventable due to screening and vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer. However, there were 3,224 new cases and 890 deaths in the UK in 2014. By 2035, this is predicted to rise by 43% due to screening non-attendance. Living in a deprived area increases cervical cancer rates and non-attendance at screening. Inclusion health addresses needs of groups frequently underserved by health services who have worse overall health than people in deprived areas. These include homeless people, migrants, substance misusers, prisoners, and sex workers. It is likely that they engage the least with cervical cancer prevention and have the greatest need for intervention. Unfortunately, they are rarely included in cervical cancer prevention research. This fellowship will fill this knowledge gap. I will measure disease levels, engagement in prevention, and find ways to improve outcomes in inclusion health women. This is needed to eliminate cervical cancer. I will achieve this in three ways: (1) a review of existing studies on inclusion health and cervical cancer (2) a study linking information on 1.6 million migrants to cervical screening and vaccination data and (3) a survey and HPV testing of inclusion health women attending outreach services.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Inhibition in the Periaqueductal Gray 30 Sep 2018

Deciding which action to take, such as whether to cross a busy road, is a critical survival skill. Making decisions requires integrating complex information and identifying the cellular mechanisms of this process is critical for understanding how the brain computes decisions. In this project will investigate neurons that control defensive decisions in mice and focus on inhibitory neurons in the midbrain Periaqueductal Grey (PAG), which have the ability to veto defensive behaviours.The first main goal of the project is to use electrophysiological and advanced molecular techniques, such as RNA sequencing and gene knock-down, to identify the genes and ion channels that control the firing of PAG inhibitory neurons. The second goal is to determine key regulators of the activity of these neurons, in particular neuromodulators and long-range synaptic connections from other brain areas, using techniques such as optogenetics in combination with behavioural assays that exploit the innate defensive behaviours of mice. The results of this work will reveal new the biophysical principles that drive firing in a key population controlling a critical behavioural decision, and provide an entry point for understanding how pathological states such as anxiety lead to maladaptive decisions.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Investigate the role of SET1A in the activation of gene expression 30 Sep 2018

The regulation of gene expression is fundamental for cellular integrity and is partly achieved by the opposing action of repressive and activating histone modifications. One such histone modification is the tri-methylation of lysine 4 on histone H3 (H3K4me3), which is known to correlate with transcriptional activity. The SET1A complex is responsible for depositing the majority of H3K4me3 in mammalian cells and disrupting its function often leads to gene expression defects. However, the mechanisms by which SET1A regulates gene expression remain unknown. I will use the auxin-inducible degron system to rapidly deplete SET1A levels. A series of genomics technologies, including ChIP-seq and NET-seq will then be used to determine the effects of SET1A loss on chromatin architecture and transcriptional activity. Additionally, proteomics techniques will be used to identify the pathways perturbed upon SET1A loss, hence identifying the mechanisms by which SET1A supports active transcription and furthering our understanding of how gene transcription is regulated. This is essential for the development of novel therapies targeting genetic diseases in which the control of gene expression is perturbed.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford

How is transcription factor function impeded during X chromosome silencing? 30 Sep 2018

In the nucleus of every cell DNA is present as pairs of parentally-inherited chromosomes, from which genes are expressed to perform biological functions. In most mammals, including humans and mice, females tend to have two X chromosomes whereas males have one X and a Y chromosome, which lacks most of the genes present on the X. Thus in order to ensure that the dosage of gene expression from essential X-linked genes is similar between both sexes, almost all genes on one female X chromosome are silenced during development. X inactivation is mediated by a long non-coding RNA, Xist, which spreads to coat the chromosome and coordinates silencing through the recruitment of relatively few factors implicated in specific chromatin remodelling pathways. Beyond its intrinsic biological significance in mammalian development, it is a tractable model system for investigating general molecular mechanisms by which chromosomes are silenced. My reseach will focus on the question of how transcription factors that normally bind enhancers and promoters to activate genes are prevented from performing their functions as the X chromosome is silenced. I will investigate this question in cellular and in vivo models of X inactivation, including in mutant cell lines defective for chromosome silencing.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford

Defining the import mechanism of pyocin AP41 and klebicin G 30 Sep 2018

There is an urgent need to develop new antibiotics against multidrug resistant Gram-negative bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Klebsiella pneumoniae. These organisms are major causes of pneumonia and sepsis, with recent reports identifying hospital isolates of each resistant to all known antibiotics. The present research focuses on the mode of action of a family of antibiotic proteins known as nuclease bacteriocins that have not been developed as antimicrobials, but show promise in animal models of infection. Nuclease bacteriocins are species-specific toxins that are used by bacteria to compete with their neighbours. Although folded proteins these molecules are capable of penetrating the defences of Gram-negative bacteria to deliver an enzyme to the organism’s cytoplasm to degrade essential nucleic acids by an unknown mechanism. Two types of nuclease bacteriocin will be investigated, pyocin AP41 which targets Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and klebicin G which targets Klebsiella pneumoniae. Preliminary computational and experimental work on pyocin AP41 has identified potential candidate proteins involved in its import. This will be followed up with structure and function studies of AP41, a dissection of its import mechanism and new studies on klebicin G, a nuclease bacteriocin that has only recently been identified.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford

Dissociation: Developing a Cognitive Maintenance Model and Psychological Intervention 30 Sep 2018

As we interact with the world around us, our experience is a result of the synthesis of our consciousness, memory, sense of identity and perception. In ‘dissociation’, this coherence fails or disintegrates. The disintegration may be sudden – meaning that people experience sudden ‘black-outs’ and amnesia for the intervening time – or gradual, where the person may feel increasingly numb or detached from reality. Chronic dissociation is an important problem for mental health professionals to address because it can cause considerable distress and disruption. It is the strongest predictor of a person making multiple suicide attempts, and is thought to underlie self-harming behaviour (such as ‘cutting’). Dissociation is not just experienced in ‘dissociative disorders’, but also across many different psychiatric disorders, including up to 50% of people with psychosis. The aim of this project is to develop and test a new psychological explanation of dissociation as it occurs in psychosis. First, experiments will be carried out with members of the general population to determine which psychological factors perpetuate dissociative experiences. Then, a psychological treatment which targets one or more of these factors will be developed and tested with a small group of people with psychosis and dissociation.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Oxford