Monday, 29 June 2015

Lecturer's spin-off company gets boost

Spectromics, a company launched last year, have secured a significant investment for development of a device that can be used to tell whether a patient has a bacterial infection and, if an antibiotic is required, provide guidance on which drug to prescribe.

The founding scientists of Spectromics: Professor Roy Goodacre, of Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and Dr Mat Upton, of the School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences, Plymouth University, have worked on this technology for a number of years prior to company formation, they are now both Directors of the company.

The company is developing the technology into a point-of-prescription test that fits within a typical 10 minute doctor-patient appointment. It will consist of a low cost, simple to use instrument used together with test specific disposable cartridges. Each cartridge will test the sample for infection susceptibility against a panel of candidate antibiotics routinely used for that particular infection.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Students support research by fund-raising

A big research area at Plymouth is brain tumours. Here is the press release about a recent event about students getting involved in raising funds for this research.

Generous students from Plymouth University have raised more than £200 for charity Brain Tumour Research, at a ‘virtual’ horse racing event.

Arranged by Plymouth University Students Union, which has adopted Brain Tumour Research as one of its charities this year, those taking part were invited to place bets on a computerised horse race, or become the owner of a ‘virtual’ horse in return for a donation.

There were eight virtual runners in eight races, and the runners in the last race were put up for auction to raise even more funds.

Brain Tumour Research supports research at Plymouth University, which holds the reputation as a leading facility in Europe looking at low-grade brain tumours. The research team are exploring the potential for the repurposing of existing drugs to ‘fast-track’ potential treatments, instead of waiting for new drugs to be developed, tested and trialled and passed for patient use – a process that can take a decade or longer.

By understanding the mechanism that makes brain cells become cancerous in low-grade tumours, the team are looking at ways in which to halt or reverse this process. The results from this research assists investigations into high-grade tumours as high and low grade tumours share some common features.

The event was organised by a team led by student Emily Blacklock. She said: “Everyone had a great time and it was a huge success. We were really pleased to have been able to raise money for such a worthwhile cause.”

Left to right – Plymouth University students Emily Harris, Emily Blacklock, Bethany Lake and Kathryn Coate

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Funding to help find new antibiotics

One of our lecturers, Mat Upton, has been awarded £217,00 as Lead Academic on an Innovate UK/BBSRC award to help develop new antibiotics. The aim is to make a fermentation system to produce commercially viable amounts of the lead antibiotic, epidermicin, which could be a new therapy for MRSA infection. This is a collaborative project with the industrial biotechnology company Ingenza (Edinburgh).

The project is part of a larger programme of research by Mat into a new class of antibiotics called bacteriocins - antimicrobial peptides produced by bacteria to kill other bacteria. Epidermicin is a potent and novel bacteriocin that he and collaborators have shown to out perform current therapies in a model system. The new funding will help progress epidermicin towards clinical trials by demonstrating that it can be cost-effectively produced in large amounts.

Advance towards Ebola vaccine at Plymouth

A multi-institutional study is led by Dr Michael Jarvis here at Plymouth University shows the durability of a novel ‘disseminating’ vaccine strategy, which might enable us to combat ebolavirus infection in wild African ape species. You can access the article here and read about the work below.

African apes serve as a main source of ebolavirus transmission into the human population. As a consequence, the prevention of ebolavirus infection in African apes could reduce the incidence of future human ebolavirus outbreaks.  Ebola virus is also highly lethal to African apes, and is regarded as a major threat to the survival of these populations in the wild. Such a ‘disseminating’ vaccine offers hope for both stabilizing these endangered ape populations and protecting humans against the devastating effects of Ebola.

The innovative approach may overcome the major hurdle to achieving high vaccine coverage of these animals.  They live in of some of the most remote, inaccessible regions of the world which makes conventional, individual vaccination near impossible.

Apart from being very immunogenic (able to provoke an immune response) and species-specific, CMV can also spread easily from individual to individual, a process which remains remarkably unaffected by prior CMV immunity. This is the basis of the team’s current innovative strategy of using a CMV-based ebolavirus vaccine that can spread through wild ape populations as a means to provide high levels of protective ebolavirus-specific immunity without the need for direct vaccination.

The current publication expands on a 2011 study, in which the same collaborative research team first showed the ability of a CMV-based vaccine to provide protection against Ebola virus in a mouse challenge model.

Most Ebola virus vaccine mouse studies, including this earlier 2011 study, have only assessed protection against Ebola virus infection shortly after vaccination (generally within six weeks post-vaccination). The present study showed that immunity induced by CMV is extremely long-lasting, with Ebola virus-specific immune responses being maintained for greater than 14 months (equivalent to half the life span of a mouse) following only a single dose of the vaccine.

Importantly, immunity induced by the CMV vaccine was able to provide protection against Ebola virus at least until 119 days (approximately four months) post-vaccination. Long-lasting immunity will be critical for the eventual success of this disseminating vaccine approach. It is also an attractive characteristic for a (albeit non-disseminating) CMV-based Ebola virus vaccine for direct use in humans, which is an additional area of development of the current collaborative research group.  

The next step, which is nearing completion, is to trial the vaccine using CMV in the macaque EBOV challenge model (regarded as the ‘gold standard’ for testing vaccines in a model translatable to Ebola infection in great apes and humans). The results from this study further support the utility of this approach and will be published in the next few months. Many questions clearly remain, including the nature of the immunity conferred by disseminated CMV vaccines (in the current study mice were directly inoculated).

“We must walk before we can run, but this study provided a little skip,” said Dr. Michael Jarvis, corresponding author on the study from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry. “However, this disseminating approach does potentially provide a workable solution to a currently intractable problem of achieving high vaccine coverage in inaccessible ape populations. Given the impact of ebolavirus on African ape numbers in the wild, and the role of apes as a route of ebolavirus transmission to humans via the bush meat trade, such a vaccine would be a win-win for humans and wild apes alike.”

To this end the project has been incorporated as a component of an international research program, which includes key players such as the World Wildlife Fund and National Institutes of Health, which are dedicated to driving the project forward to mobilization.