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UK Funding Groups Looking for Radical, Adventurous New Proteomics Technologies

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UK Proteomics innovators listen up: As much as £10 million ($18.3 million) in government funding is available for those who are searching for ”radical solutions to analyzing the proteome,” and next week’s deadline for the first round of applications is nearing.

The aim of this multi-year initiative, “Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration in Proteomic Technologies,” is to draw together researchers from various areas to work on solutions for common proteomics shortcomings, like sensitivity, dynamic range, and quantification. Either one or two such virtual centers are to be funded.

Three UK research councils, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; the Medical Research Council; and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, are allocating the money for the initiative, drawing from funds that the UK government allocated in 2002 for post-genomics and proteomics research.

Rather than reinventing the 2D gel or incrementally improving mass spectrometers, the research councils are looking for fundamentally new ways to analyze proteins, whatever form that might end up taking. “We wish to get some blue sky approaches,” said Andy Rendell, an EPSRC associate program manager. He said that he couldn’t be any more specific due to the broad nature of the possible applications. “It’s a slight conundrum. We can’t specify what we want because we want something new.” And if no new ideas materialize, no checks will be written to applicants: “If nothing suitable comes forward, then we reserve the right not to fund anything,” Rendell said.

The research councils are trying to cast their net as widely as possible, by even including technologies that have not yet been applied to protein analysis. Rendell mentioned photonics as an example of an area that “seems to apply itself to a number of fields, for example, surface plasmon resonance.”

This way, the councils hope to address challenges that current technologies don’t seem to be able to overcome. These include sensitivity and dynamic range of protein analysis; visualization, quantification, and identification of proteins; separation and identification of ‘difficult’ proteins; identification of post-translational modification; and sample handling.

Most academic and not-for-profit UK research institutions are eligible to apply. However, companies can become involved as collaborators and “in fact, that would be welcomed,” said Jo Dekkers, an MRC program manager. According to the councils, industry could make a specific contribution to the center by funding or making facilities available.

The deadline for submitting so-called “expressions of interest” is Feb. 4. Further information is available at http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/science/initiatives/ircprottech.html.

The IRC in Proteomics Technologies is just one of several large-scale proteomics initiatives the research councils are funding. The second call for a £24 million BBSRC Proteomics and Cell Function Initiative (http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/science/initiatives/proteomicscell.html) closed last week, its aim being to use proteomics to understand cell function in normal and diseased states, and to undertake drug, diagnostic, and vaccine development programs. Unlike the “radical technologies” sought in the most recent initiative, the cell function initiative is geared toward encouraging scientists who are already equipped with proteomics tools and skilled in the technology to apply it to biological problems.

Additionally, a £14 million Structural Proteomics of Rational Targets (SPORT) initiative already closed its application period last September. (http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/science/initiatives/sport.html).

In total, the UK research councils received £246 million ($452 million) from the government for post-genomics and proteomics research for the February 2002 to June 2005 period.

— JK

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