Microscopic DNA devices, computer simulation of organs and other projects to share 8 million pounds in new UK health R&D funding

November 21, 2002

London, 20 Nov 2002

Six new research projects that could improve the detection and treatment of killer diseases such as heart disease and cancer today shared in an £8m funding boost.

The six biotechnology projects, including one project looking at developing DNA devices, invisible to the human eye, that can monitor and cure disease from inside the body, and another project designing computer simulations of human organs for the development of new medicines, will each receive over £1m.

Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury announcing the grants said:

"These projects will develop new and exciting techniques to tackle disease and have the potential to revolutionise the future of healthcare. This work will also capitalise on the excellent science available in this country and will help the UK maintain its global position at the leading edge of bioscience and biotechnology. The awards are an example of how DTI is supporting the development of new technologies that enhance the future competitiveness of UK industry."

The six projects are;

- the development of devices to monitor gene activity, University of Edinburgh - DNA and silicon based devices to monitor genes from inside the body. These microscopic devices may one day be used as intelligent medication that can detect and prevent disease before the patient experiences any symptoms;

- software to simulate and analyse the chemistry of the body, University of Glasgow - looking into the biochemistry of cancer and heart disease to help in the development of new drugs and therapies. The resulting software will reduce costs and identify potential side-effects at an earlier stage;

- predicting the effects of potential drugs, Imperial College, London

- developing advanced computing techniques to predict whether potential drugs will have toxic effects, and to study how disease affects the body. It is hoped that the resulting computing tool will lower the high cost of drug development;

- computer models of human organs, University College, London - producing computer models to simulate the functions of the body; from individual cells up to whole organs, such as the liver. The resulting models will be valuable tools for drug discovery and development, and help to reduce animal testing;

- improved techniques for analysing images of tissue samples, Imperial College, London - using advanced techniques of fluorescent imaging to improve the detection of diseased cells in tissue samples; and,

- imaging techniques for viewing genes, Liverpool University (in collaboration with the University of Manchester and UMIST) - developing improved methods for analysing genes to speed up screening, and to help researchers develop new treatments and drugs.

Notes to editors

1. These projects are part of the DTI's £25m "Harnessing Genomics" Programme which was announced in the "Opportunities for all" White Paper April 2001. The programme aims to help industry take up exciting, revolutionary developments in bioscience.

2. The projects will run between 3 and 5 years, and DTI will be working closely with project leaders and companies interested in the technologies to ensure that the work remains timely and relevant for industrial application.

3. The selection process for these projects was conducted in consultation with the relevant Research Councils: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences research Council (EPSRC), and Medical Research Council (MRC). Key factors in selecting the projects were;
- the degree of innovation involved; and,
- the interest and enthusiasm of potential industrial users of the technology.

4. The companies that have expressed an interest in the Beacon projects range from SMEs to multinationals, and span healthcare (pharmaceuticals and biotechnology), instrumentation, imaging and software sectors.

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