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Biochemistry bags half of Biochemical Society awards

Professor Pete Cullen

Professor Pete Cullen

Professor Andrew Halestrap (left) and Dr Mark Dillingham

Professor Andrew Halestrap (left) and Dr Mark Dillingham

11 March 2009

Staff in the University’s Department of Biochemistry have won three of only six awards to be presented by the Biochemical Society in 2010 – an outstanding achievement for one department.

Dr Mark Dillingham has been awarded the Colworth Medal and Prize, Professor Pete Cullen will give the Morton Lecture and Professor Andrew Halestrap the Keilin Memorial lecture. In addition, Dr Jez Carlton, who obtained his PhD in 2007 for his work in the department with Professor Cullen, has been awarded the Biochemical Society’s Early Career Researcher Award in the field of cell biology.

The Colworth Medal is awarded annually for outstanding research by a young biochemist of any nationality who has carried out the majority of his or her work in the UK. The medal was donated in 1963 by the Unilever Research Colworth Laboratory and is awarded to a scientist under the age of 35.

Dr Dillingham receives the award for his work on helicase enzymes, proteins that unwind DNA. His research has involved the development of elegant techniques that allow him to study single molecules of the enzymes in operation on single molecules of DNA. Professor George Banting, Head of the Department of Biochemistry, commented: ‘The Medal recognises the very best young biochemist working in the UK. Dr Dillingham richly deserves this award, which highlights the outstanding quality of his research.’

The department now boasts two holders of the Colworth Medal among its current staff, the other being Dr Ian Collinson, who was awarded the Medal in 2005. Only two other members of the department have ever won the Medal – Professor Brian Chappell in 1965 and Professor Peter Garland in 1968.

The Morton Lecture was instituted in 1978 to commemorate the late R.A. Morton, a renowned lipid biochemist of the mid-20th century. The lecturer is an individual deemed to have made an outstanding contribution to lipid biochemistry. This award is made biennially and this year recognises the significant contributions that Professor Cullen has made to understanding the role of phosphoinositides in cell biology.

Phosphoinositides are a type of lipid that play a pivotal role in the ability of human cells to detect and respond to external stimuli, for example, hormones in the bloodstream. Losing the ability to control the production of phosphoinositides can lead to the cells incorrectly interpreting these signals and becoming diseased. Professor Cullen is the first member of the Biochemistry Department at the University of Bristol to receive this award.

The Keilin Memorial Lecture was instituted in January 1964 to commemorate the late David Keilin who undertook seminal work on the mitochondrial respiratory chain in the first half of the 20th century. The lecturer and the subject of the lecture are selected by the Awards Committee of the Biochemical Society from a field related to the interests of Keilin in bioenergetics, electron transfer and mitochondrial biology. The lecture is normally given every other year.

Professor Halestrap has been invited to give this lecture because of his outstanding contributions to the understanding of mitochondrial biology. Mitochondria produce a molecule called ATP, which provides the energy for life. Damage to mitochondria can cause major health problems and lead to conditions such as heart disease and stroke. The award represents another first for the University’s Biochemistry Department.

Early Career Researcher Awards were established by the Biochemical Society in 2008, with the first award made in 2009. They recognise the impact of research carried out by early-career scientists who have been awarded their PhD within the last five years and who have performed a significant proportion of their work in the UK or the Republic of Ireland. Dr Jez Carlton, who now works at Kings College London, did his PhD in Professor Cullen’s lab, working on the role of proteins that bind to phosphoinositides. He is the first person to receive such an award for cell biology.

Professor Banting added: ‘It is truly exceptional, possibly unprecedented, for members of staff from one department to scoop so many of the Biochemical Society’s awards in one year. This is recognition of the high quality of research that takes place within the department and of the impact that that research has across the wider scientific community.

‘It is notable that awards have gone to both junior and senior members of staff in the department, recognising both established success and future potential. The fact that the department can now count two holders of the Colworth Medal among its staff is fantastic. All in the department are extremely proud of our colleagues’ success.’

More information on the prizewinners’ research can be found on their websites:

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