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Outstanding researchers receive inaugural Wellcome Trust Investigator Awards

2 June 2011

The Wellcome Trust today announces the first recipients of its Investigator Awards, £56 million worth of funding for exceptional researchers addressing the most important questions about health and disease.

The researchers will be looking at ambitious and diverse research topics, from using stem cells to help the body mend itself to how physical activity during pregnancy affects a child's health in later life and understanding the underlying neurobiology of conditions such as epilepsy.

The Wellcome Trust has appointed 27 Investigators (7 New Investigators and 20 Senior Investigators). Most of the Investigators are based at institutions across the UK - from London to Liverpool and Edinburgh to Manchester - and one is a researcher in Brazil. The awards will range from around £1 million to £3m.

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, says: "The Wellcome Trust Investigators, together with our existing Fellowship holders, represent some of the very brightest minds in biomedical science. They are seeking answers to challenging research questions that could potentially transform our understanding of the mechanisms of health and disease.

"We are demonstrating our confidence in these outstanding individuals by providing longer-term, flexible funding; in return, we expect that they will make significant advances in knowledge in their field and act as ambassadors within the research community, helping us achieve our aim of improving human and animal health."

Prospective Investigators were interviewed by expert panels led by Professor Deborah Smith, Head of the Biology Department at the University of York, and Professor Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society.

"Throughout the rigorous selection process all of these individuals demonstrated research excellence, vision and leadership," says Professor Smith. "It was very rewarding to be involved in interviewing such an exceptional group of scientists. They are highly deserving of the Wellcome Trust's support."

Investigator Awards provide funding for scientists with an excellent track record and in an established post. The awards offer the flexibility and time to enable them to tackle important research questions.

Wellcome Trust Investigators will help the Trust tackle its five major challenges, as set out in its Strategic Plan: maximising the health benefits of genetics and genomics; understanding the brain; combating infectious disease; investigating development, ageing and chronic disease; and connecting environment, nutrition and health.

The recipients include:

Professor Alister Craig (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine)
Senior Investigator Professor Craig will be examining how cytoadherence - the process whereby red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite adhere to the walls of blood vessels - leads to severe cases of malaria. Professor Craig hopes the knowledge gained will help in the design of new drug treatments for severe malaria targeted at preventing or reversing the adhesion of the red blood cells to blood vessels in the brain. Around one million people die each year from severe malaria, mainly young children and pregnant women in low-income countries.

Dr Pedro Hallal (Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil)
Dr Hallal, a New Investigator based in Brazil, will be following three existing birth cohorts and a new cohort to be launched in 2015 in south Brazil, in order to find out how we can encourage people to be more physically active and to examine the benefits to individuals and to societies if people do become more active.

Professor Laurence Pearl (University of Sussex)
Professor Pearl, one of the Senior Investigators, will study at a structural level the molecule Hsp90, believed to have a key role in cancer as well as viral and parasitic infections. In particular, he will be examining whether the molecule is an appropriate drug target for a wide range of diseases.

Professor Fiona Powrie (University of Oxford)
Our intestines contain a huge number of microbes that play an important part in our health. In inflammatory bowel disease, the beneficial relationship we have with these bacteria breaks down, resulting in chronic and painful intestinal inflammation. Senior Investigator Professor Powrie will be investigating how the 'dialogue' between the intestinal immune system and intestinal bacteria breaks down and why this leads to disease.

Professor Sara Rankin (Imperial College London)
Senior Investigator Professor Sara Rankin is building on previous funding from the Wellcome Trust, including a Research Career Development Fellowship and University Award, with the aim of developing innovative ways to activate stem cells in the bone marrow to stimulate regeneration of tissues such as the bone and heart.

Professor Peter Rothwell (University of Oxford)
A physician and epidemiologist, Senior Investigator Professor Rothwell will be addressing the most important - but, he believes, tractable - issues in stroke prevention, including how best to diagnose and treat high blood pressure and whether taking a daily aspirin reduces the risk of cancer as well as heart attacks and strokes.

Dr Christiana Ruhrberg (University College London)
The interaction between nerve cells and cells in our blood vessels controls the development of the brain and retina, regulates traffic across the blood-brain and blood-retina barriers and promotes the formation of new nerve cells. New Investigator Dr Ruhrberg will explore the mechanisms that regulate these interactions in normal development to identify therapeutic targets for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, in which the nerve cells and blood vessels fail to communicate normally and blood vessels function poorly.

Contact

Craig Brierley
Senior Media Officer
Wellcome Trust
T
+44 (0)20 7611 7329
E
c.brierley@wellcome.ac.uk

Notes for editors

The full list of Investigators is as follows:

New Investigators

Dr Juan Burrone
King's College London
Homeostatic plasticity: from synapses to the axon initial segment

Dr Pedro Hallal
Federal University of Pelotas
A lifecourse approach for understanding levels, trends, determinants and consequences of physical activity, and to inform interventions and policy for global action

Dr Kenneth Harris
Imperial College London
Integration of internal and external signals in sensory cortex

Dr Mate Lengyel
University of Cambridge
Normative neurophysiology

Dr Klaus Okkenhaug
The Babraham Institute, Cambridge
PI3K signalling in immunity and infection

Dr Christiana Ruhrberg
University College London
Defining signalling pathways that control neurovascular interactions in the brain and retina

Dr Christopher Thompson
University of Manchester
Generating order from chaos: understanding how heterogeneity, stochastic differentiation and cell sorting can result in robust developmental patterning

Senior Investigators

Dr Jurg Bahler
University College London
Non-coding RNA function in genome regulation and cell maintenance

Dr Javier Caceres
MRC-HGU, Edinburgh
RNA-binding proteins in health and disease

Professor Matteo Carandini
University College London
Integration of internal and external signals in sensory cortex

Professor V Krishna Chatterjee
University of Cambridge
Disorders of nuclear hormone synthesis and action: genetics and pathophysiology

Professor Alister Craig
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Cytoadherence-mediated pathology in cerebral malaria

Professor Peter Donnelly
University of Oxford
Statistical methods development and analysis of genomic data in health and disease

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith
University of Cambridge
Genomic imprinting and the epigenetic control of genome function

Professor Adrian Hill
The Jenner Institute, University of Oxford
T cell inducing vaccines

Professor David Holden
Imperial College London
Intracellular biology of salmonella and streptococcus

Professor Dimitri Kullmann
University College London
Synaptic neurology

Dr Jan Löwe
MRC-LMB, Cambridge
Molecular architecture of the bacterial actin cytoskeleton

Professor Stephen O'Rahilly
University of Cambridge
Insulin resistance: lessons from extreme phenotypes

Professor Laurence Pearl
University of Sussex
Mechanisms of client protein activation and regulation by the Hsp90 molecular chaperone system

Professor Fiona Powrie
University of Oxford
Immune pathways in the intestine in health and disease

Professor Sara Rankin
Imperial College London
Pharmacological mobilization of progenitor cells for tissue regeneration

Professor Wolf Reik
The Babraham Institute, Cambridge
Epigenetic reprogramming in mammalian development

Professor Patrik Rorsman
University of Oxford
Metabolic and hormonal regulation of pancreatic hormone secretion

Professor Peter Rothwell
University of Oxford
Improving prevention of stroke by better understanding of existing risk factors and treatments

Professor Gavin Screaton
Imperial College London
Studies of immunopathogenesis in dengue virus infection

Professor Dale Wigley
The Institute of Cancer Research
Understanding the structure and mechanism of macromolecular machines that regulate chromatin dynamics

About the Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.

Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK T:+44 (0)20 7611 8888