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Leading biomedical research group receives £395,519

* 13 March 2003 *

Leading biomedical research group receives £395,519

Internationally leading biomedical research at the University of Sussex involving the development of anti-cancer drugs and gene therapy applications has been boosted by a £395,519 grant.

The funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) was made to chemistry professors Norman Billingham and Steven Armes, whose work with new man-made long chain molecules has a range of potentially groundbreaking uses.

"This award will enable us to continue our research into this very exciting and important field of study for the next four years," says Professor Armes.  "This special grant, called a Platform Grant, is only made to groups with a proven international reputation. You have to be invited to apply."

The Sussex team, working together with Professor Andrew Lloyd's group at the University of Brighton, are making long chain molecules, called block copolymers. These block copolymers can organise themselves in water to form tiny particles, known as micelles, that are just a few billionths of a metre in diameter. These micelles have a biocompatible exterior similar to human cell membranes. This means that they are 'stealthy' and are not attacked by the body's immune system. The micelle interiors can be loaded with a range of drugs that are typically only poorly water-soluble, such as anti-cancer drugs. "In five to ten years, this approach could be used commercially," says Professor Armes.

Working with  Dr Snow Stolnik's group at the University of Nottingham, the Sussex team are also designing new block copolymers that combine with DNA for potential use in gene therapy, and, together with Dr Ian Hamley's group at the University Leeds, new biocompatible gels that could be used to repair damaged blood vessels are being examined. Each of these inter-University partnerships is being funded by Biocompatibles, a Surrey-based UK biotech company that has proprietary technology in the field of biocompatible water-soluble polymers. Three joint Sussex-Biocompatibles patent applications have been filed within the last year.

Professor Armes and Professor Billingham have been working on water-soluble polymers since 1990 and are regarded as leading UK researchers in this field. More than twenty national and international collaborations with other academic institutions have been initiated during the last five years. They also have a number of other successful collaborations with UK industrial companies, including Unilever, Laporte, Avecia and Syngenta.

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