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The University of Sussex

 15 April 2002 

Genome research centre opens on University of Sussex campus

Eight teams of cancer researchers have moved into the new purpose-built Genome Damage and Stability Centre at the University of Sussex.

The researchers will work on the human body's most precious possessions - genomes - which contain the genetic blueprint that tells every part of the body how to function.

"Long strands of DNA are being damaged continually inside the body, for example by sunlight or by traces of carcinogens in food," explains the Centre's chairman, Professor Alan Lehmann. "Repairing this damage is vital to protect us from cancer, but people with some hereditary diseases can't repair damage in their genomes, so they are up to 1,000 times more susceptible to getting cancer than normal individuals."

Several of the research groups in the new Centre work with cells from patients who cannot repair their genomes properly, in order to try to understand how the repair processes work and what goes wrong in patients with those diseases.

However, some questions are too difficult to address using human cells and it is necessary to use other organisms as 'models'. Remarkably, the genome protection processes are almost identical in all organisms. This means that instead of using animals as models, the Centre's researchers are able to find answers by working with a very simple micro-organism, the fission yeast.

This yeast - somewhat different than that used to make bread - has a distinguished history at Sussex, having been studied here in the early 1980s by a young Research Fellow called Paul Nurse. As Professor Sir Paul Nurse he received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine last year and is now Director-General of Cancer Research UK. Four of the research groups at the new Centre are following in his footsteps and attempting to unravel the mysteries of cancer using fission yeast.

The Centre was funded by grants totalling £5.75m from the Joint Infrastructure Fund and the Wolfson Foundation. It has got off to a flying start with five major research grants from the Medical Research Council, together with project grants from the BBSRC, European Union, Leukaemia Research Fund, Cancer Research UK, Department of Health and the Wellcome Trust, among others. These grants will bring in a total of about £9 million over the next three to five years.

The laboratories are large and open-plan to foster interactions between research groups. The location of the building immediately adjacent to the School of Biological Sciences will increase the already strong links with faculty in the School. It is anticipated that similar research links will be developed with the new Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

 Notes for editors 

Professor Alan Lehmann can be contacted on 01273 678120, email
Press Office contacts: Alison Field or Peter Simmons, University of Sussex,
Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, email or

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