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Funders:
Paul Hamlyn Foundation
The Wellcome Trust
Garfield Weston Foundation
Barrow Cadbury Trust
Recipients:
University College London

Results

Developing gene therapy for the inherited childhood epilepsy, Dravet Syndrome 27 Apr 2017

Dravet syndrome is a rare, incurable epilepsy which affects young children. Before two years of age they have seizures, incoordination and cognitive impairment. They carry mutations in the SCN1A gene, which codes for voltage-gated sodium channel NaV1.1. This protein is expressed in hippocampal inhibitory interneurons. Gene therapy offers several advantages over conventional drugs. It is a treatment which targets the cause of the disease by delivering the corrected copies of the SCN1A directly to brain cells. Our hypothesis is that we can incorporate a promoter to achieve persistent expression specifically in inhibitory interneurons of the hippocampus. We aim to compare two novel promoters against a pan-neuronal promoter, synapsin. The first is a truncated endogenous promoter, Gad67. The second is a synthetic promoter identified by in silico analysis. Before the project commences, we will clone these two promoters into lentiviral vectors. These, and a synapsin vector, will be injected intracranially into neonatal mice. At the start of the project the brains from four mice will be co-stained with antibodies directed against GFP and inhibitory interneurons to assess colocalisation. To measure persistence of expression from these promoters, the four remaining mice will be subject to whole-body bioluminescence imaging twice-weekly.

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

Optimisation of carrier materials for the delivery of olfactory ensheathing cells in spinal cord injury 27 Apr 2017

Transplant-mediated repair is a promising method in spinal cord injury (SCI) treatment. This involves transplanting therapeutic cells that promote nerve regeneration at the site of injury. For SCI, one promising therapeutic cell type is olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs). These have been shown to remyelinate demyelinated axons and promote new synapses following injury. They are also easily accessible clinically via trans-nasal endoscopic biopsy, and compelling pre-clinical evidence means that they are now close to being formally tested as part of a first-in-man clinical trial. However, currently these cells are delivered as a simple cell suspension, and this is unlikely to be optimal for creating a permissive and optimised repair environment. Thus, the objective of this project will be to develop and engineer optimised biomaterial scaffolds for OEC delivery. In doing so, it is hoped that a permissive 3D extracellular environment can be created, and the phenotype and behaviour of OECs optimised for spinal cord repair. Promising prospective biomaterials include fibrin, collagen and collagen-fibrin blends. To this end, we will investigate the effect of these promising carrier materials on OEC survival and phenotype, particularly with a focus on changes they may cause on 3D cell morphology.

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

Developing a behavioural task for measuring the ability of listeners to perform auditory scene analysis. 27 Apr 2017

The auditory brain separates simultaneous sounds arriving at the ear into identifiable and localisable sources by a process known as Auditory Scene Analysis (ASA). The two steps that are involved in ASA are i) segregation of the simultaneous auditory information and ii) the integration of the sounds from the same source into one stream. To understand how these two steps are connected and how different auditory cues interact to shape the scene, this project will develop a behavioural task and analyse the performance of human listeners. A target vowel will be presented alongside with a distractor vowel, and human listeners will identify what the target is. Listeners will only be able to identify the target if they can separate the two sounds: changing the location and pitch of target and distractor will help this. In order find out whether the separation of competing sounds is facilitated by the formation of perceptual streams, the vowels will also be presented as part of a sound sequence. Our hypothesis is that the ability to identify a target vowel will be improved by the formation of two perceptual streams. The long-term goal is to develop a behavioural paradigm suitable for humans and animals.

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

Up and down regulation of MafB gene in the developing chick hindbrain. 27 Apr 2017

The project's aim is to up and down regulate MafB gene, that is expressed in the Nucleus Laminaris (NL) and Nucleus Angularis (NA), in the developing chick hindbrain and ask questions about: 1) formation of nucleus Laminaris and nucleus Angularis in the dorsal hindbrain; 2) other effects on hindbrain development e.g interfering with fgf8 molecule expression, which in turn would affect the development of the cranial motor nerves VI, VII and nVIa. Such experimental techniques as in ovo electroporation, immunofluorescence and in situ hybridization will be used to look at the genes expressed in the auditory brainstem. The in ovo electroporation constructs used will overexpress MafB and also express a dominant negative version of MafB and immunofluoresce analysis will be carried out to test whether the electroporation was successful. The in situ hybridization analysis will be performed to establish the effect of MafB on the expression of such genes like FGF8, Pou6F2, N-cadherin, gamma catenin, cadherin-13 and cadherin-22 in the hindbrain. These techniques would also allow the analysis of the formation of the nucleus Laminaris in the developing hindbrain.

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

Identifying Integrative and Conjugative Elements using DLIGHT 27 Apr 2017

Integrative and conjugative elements (ICEs) are mobile genetic elements present in both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. They mostly reside in the host chromosome and under certain conditions, will excise and transfer to a new host via the conjugation machinery. ICEs have been found to provide the host with a wide range of phenotypes, including antibiotic and heavy metal resistance and the ability to colonise a eukaryotic host, promote virulence and biofilm formation. The ability of ICE to spread to different species of bacteria through horizontal gene transfer is a major factor in bacterial evolution. Bioinformatics approaches have been increasingly used to identify possible ICEs through sequence similarity. In this project, we aim to find out the effectiveness of using an algorithm, DLIGHT (Distance Likelihood based Inference of Genes Horizontally Transferred) that was originally used to detect lateral gene transfer, to identify integrative and conjugative elements. We will achieve this by assessing DLIGHT's ability to recover already documented ICEs. We will also use DLIGHT to test certain sequences which we suspect to contain ICEs. The predictions of new ICEs will then be vetted through manual analysis and collaboration with experimentalists.

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

Investigating the sleep modulating effect of oxytocin in zebrafish models of autism. 27 Apr 2017

In this project I will test the hypothesis that oxytocin expression and development of oxytocin-expressing neurons are altered in zebrafish with mutations in the ASD risk genes cntnap2 and chd8. I hope to find evidence for the sleep modulating effects of oxytocin, and posit whether deficiencies in oxytocin signalling pathways may contribute to sleep disorders in autism mutants. I will examine oxytocin mRNA levels across the day/night cycle for both wild-type and mutant fish established in the Rihel lab. I will then analyse the pattern of oxytocin expression in the brains of mutant embryos and their wild-type siblings. From the findings in related studies with cntnap2 mutant mice and the Rihel lab zebrafish models of autism (see references [3] and [6]), I expect to see an alteration in the amount of oxytocin mRNA for day/night between the wild-type and mutant embryos, and a change in the number of neurons expressing oxytocin. If such changes are found, they could explain the sleep phenotype observed in cntnap2 autism mutants, and elucidate a link between neuronal circuit dysfunction and behavioural perturbation in this animal model.

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

Evaluation of antimicrobial resistance and intrahospital transmission of respiratory pathogens in antibody-deficient patients. 27 Apr 2017

I will be studying the respiratory microbiome of antibody-deficient patients to determine whether the number of bacterial species that are resistant to common antibiotics correlates with antibiotic usage, and whether transmission of these bacteria occurs between patients whilst attending hospital for immunoglobulin infusions. Immunocompromised patients provide a highly permissive environment for pathogen evolution as the lack of immune pressure allows resistance to develop without an associated fitness cost. Many of these patients take long-term prophylactic antibiotics together with frequent treatment courses, which we hypothesise acts as a selection pressure to further increase the number of resistant bacterial species in their microbiome. By analysing sputum samples with conventional microbiology techniques and MALDI-TOFF mass spectrometry, I will identify the bacterial species present in each sample and determine how many are resistant to common antibiotics, comparing this to questionnaires detailing the patients’ antibiotic usage. Additionally, for any resistant species identified in multiple patients, I will compare the antibiograms from each sample and extract DNA for 16S next generation sequencing to determine whether the presence of these species is due to intrahospital transmission. This project could inform clinical management of these patients as well as other situations where immunocompromised patients share hospital facilities.

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

Pathways of nanopore assembly by bacterial toxins and immune effectors 27 Apr 2017

To attack cells in our body, bacteria make use of toxins that drill holes in the cell membranes. Following a similar strategy, our immune system makes use of such pore forming proteins to target cancerous, virus-infected and bacterial cells. In the course of their action, pore forming proteins are first secreted as monomers, bind to the membrane, and next self-assemble into oligomeric pores. Some of the various open questions are how these pore assembly processes take place on more complicated, composite membranes such as bacterial envelopes. This project will aim to contribute to answering these questions, while providing the student research expertise in nanoscale microscopy methods applied to process that is essential for bacterial attack and immune defence. More precisely, the student will image live bacteria (E. coli) as they are attacked by the membrane attack complex. This is part of on-going atomic force microscopy experiments in the supervisors lab, which offer the possibility to visualise bacterial cell wall degradation in real time. Time permitting, the student will also be exposed to computational approaches to analyse such new data as well as past data on assembly and membrane insertion of immune effector perforin.

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

Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (London Hub) 30 Sep 2018

The London Hub for Urban Health, Sustainability and Equity aims to be the world’s foremost transdisciplinary hub for research, training and pubic engagement on urban health. It is founded on two constituent projects – Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (CUSSH) and Pathways to Equitable Healthy Cities (PEHC) – and involves leading London-based institutions and their global network of collaborating institutions. The Hub’s principal objective is to integrate and coordinate research and stakeholder engagement that support evidence-based policies aimed at improving population health, health equity and environmental sustainability in cities around the world. The Hub, and its projects, will achieve this objective through comparative studies that involve participatory research and coproduction of knowledge among academic researchers, policy makers and practitioners, and civil society; developing models for prospective policy evaluation and applying these models to data from our partner cities; and training the next generation of research and policy leaders in urban health, while establishing the foundations for sustaining and expanding the Hub beyond the Wellcome funding period. The CUSSH project focuses on how to transform cities to address vital environmental and population health imperatives, and entails partnership with the cities of London, Beijing, Kisumu, Nairobi, Ningbo and Rennes.

Amount: £5,150,000
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

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

Dynamical modelling of somatic genomes 28 Nov 2017

Cancers are complex and chaotic systems. It is becoming apparent that no two cells in a cancer are genetically identical or follow the same evolutionary trajectory. Chromosomal instability (CIN) is one way that cells generate this complexity and is a hallmark of all cancer and ageing. In cancer, it increases the level of variation available to cells and gives rise to intra-tumour genetic hetereogeneity, which makes the disease more agressive, drug tolerant, and harder to treat. We are still far from a complete understanding of how cells undergoing CIN evolve over time, in particular, we do not know how populations of cancer cells evolve and how selection acts to change these properties. Understanding this normal evolutionary behaviour will be key to separating the functional and non-functional aspects of intra-tumour heterogeneity. We will tackle this problem by understanding cancer as an emergent complex system, and use simple dynamic stochastic models to capture the essential biological features of the processes underlying CIN, including chromosome gain and loss, structural change, and genome doubling. We will use the vast amount of NGS data already available to fit these models using Bayesian inference and infer the evolutionary aspects of CIN in healthy and cancerous tissues.

Amount: £1,273,968
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

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

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

Somatic adaptation and sex differences in human endocrine development and disease 28 Nov 2017

Our work focusses on new genetic mechanisms affecting human adrenal and reproductive function. We have recently described a multisystem growth restriction disorder caused by gain-of-function of SAMD9, where somatic adaptation can modify phenotype and mask detection of the genotype. In parallel, we developed a transcriptomic atlas of human adrenal and gonad development, mapping out sex-specific effects of organogenesis. We now plan to develop these insights to address several related fundamental questions: 1) How extensive is SAMD9 variability in endocrine and growth phenotypes and does dynamic somatic adaptation play a wider role in human disease mechanisms; 2) What are the dynamic roles of sex chromosomes and sex hormones in development (focussing on brain, adrenal gland and genital tubercle), and how does genetic variability of the X-chromosome contribute to phenotype in Turner syndrome (45,X); 3) Can we apply these concepts to discover new genetic mechanisms underlying adrenal and reproductive disorders. This work would provide novel disease models and approaches to analysis, could link the dynamics of development and sex-differences to common conditions (e.g. neurodevelopment, stress, early-onset hypertension), and would continue to elucidate the causes of human adrenal and reproductive disorders, with important implications for personalised management and development of new therapies.

Amount: £1,561,134
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

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

Assessment of placental function in complicated pregnancy using advanced MRI 04 Dec 2017

Placental insufficiency underlies the major obstetric syndromes of fetal growth restriction (FGR) and pre-eclampsia and accounts for one third of stillbirths in high-income countries. There is an unmet clinical need for a method to properly characterise placental perfusion and determine if and when a placenta is likely to fail. The objective of this work is to develop an imaging method to assess placental function in complicated pregnancy. This work will help us to better understand placenta function in FGR. This project will compare placenta properties from appropriately developing and early-onset growth-restricted pregnancies to understand the differences in the appearance of the placenta in FGR. The key goals of this work are to assess a novel Magnetic Resonance (MR) Imaging method to measure fetal and maternal placental perfusion. This technique describes an MR signal that models the blood flow properties as they change between the maternal and fetal sides of the placenta. to link this to relevant clinical information including clinical ultrasound markers and fetal MRI. to use these results to establish a comprehensive imaging project for the placenta by providing an in vivo measurement of placenta function to complement information from ultrasound imaging and ex utero microCT.

Amount: £99,804
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

UCL/WT Translational Partnership 2018 - Widening Participation and Enhancing Translational Culture 30 Sep 2018

The biomedical translational strategy of UCL and its partner hospitals is based upon harnessing the wealth of talent and ideas across disciplines to make a difference to patients and their families. The WT Translational Partnership Award supports the pursuit of excellence in the universities tripartite mission "Research, Education and Innovation" and will enhance the knowledge, culture and support available for translation: • Provide funding to develop pilot data enabling progression of projects to our internal Therapeutic Acceleration Fund. Aimed at encouraging Early Career Scientists to take the first step along the translational pathway (RESEARCH) • Enable a greater understanding of translation amongst early career researchers through a mixture of on-line training material and workshops (EDUCATION) • Supporting our Therapeutic Innovation Networks (TINs) in small molecule, biologics, cell, gene & regenerative medicine, devices, diagnostics and repurposing. These "early discovery therapeutic accelerators" will identify and address barriers encountered, share knowledge/best practice and use Industry expertise to progress specific projects (INNOVATION)

Amount: £1,000,000
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London