Work on laboratory of the future to begin in Cambridge

Work on laboratory of the future to begin in Cambridge

Tuesday 24 June 2008

The Medical Research Council has received £67 million towards a new building for the Laboratory of Molecular Biology from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Scientists working at LMB are world leaders and the new building will provide the facilities required to ensure the institute continues to excel globally. The building will be the flagship of the newly expanded Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the MRC Chief Executive said: ‘‘The Laboratory of Molecular Biology has an outstanding track record as an innovator in medical research. The new building will allow the MRC to build on the LMB's position as a globally competitive research centre and continue to attract the best researchers.''

The MRC has received £67 million from the Large Facilities Capital Fund (LFCF) towards the total project cost of £197 million. The remainder will be provided by the MRC, including capital generated as a result of the commercialisation of discoveries made at LMB. The University of Cambridge will contribute at least £7.5 million in return for lease of space to accommodate 40 research workers.

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said: "The corner stone of success is the quality of the fundamental research and the track record of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology speaks for itself.  This investment will further strengthen its reputation as a world leader in basic research and will continue to develop the laboratory's strong reputation to translate fundamental research into health benefits."

Although the MRC unit was established in 1947, the existing LMB facility was built in 1962. The institute's scientists have won a total of 13 Nobel prizes. LMB scientists are exploring biological processes at a molecular level and have used their discoveries to develop diagnostics and therapeutics. Discoveries and inventions developed at the LMB, for example DNA sequencing and methods to determine the structure of proteins, have revolutionised all areas of biology.

Dr Hugh Pelham, Director of the LMB, said: "The new LMB building has a stunning design and will provide a globally competitive research centre with state of the art facilities for making the discoveries of the 21st Century. In addition, we will now be able to expand our research on the molecular biology of the brain and to build up activities that help to turn discoveries into medicine."

The University of Cambridge is also at the international forefront of biomedical and clinical research, working in close partnership with Addenbrooke's Hospital - more formally Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. The new LMB will further enhance Cambridge's reputation and is the flagship development for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. This Campus is committed to innovation and excellence and brings together the Trust, the University of Cambridge Clinical School and the MRC, and other medical research charities including Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust in supporting research-led clinical care.  The Campus also provides exciting opportunities for expansion in new clinical services, research activities and a medipark. Collectively this will put Cambridge at the forefront of initiatives to integrate prevention and treatment of disease with the development of new therapies and diagnostic techniques of the future. 

Planning permission was agreed by the Cambridge City Council last November. Construction of the new laboratory is scheduled to begin later this year and is expected to take three years.

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Examples of LMB research

In 1975 Drs César Milstein and Georges KÖhler devised a technique for isolating and producing unlimited numbers of individual, or monoclonal, antibodies. Present LMB Deputy Director Sir Gregory Winter devised a way to ‘humanise' these, making them suitable for medical use, resulting in tailor-made treatments for cancer, infectious and auto-immune diseases and for use in organ-transplants. These inventions paved the way for a whole new class of drugs, such as the anti-cancer agents Herceptin and Avastin. LMB scientists are currently investigating a new monoclonal antibody for the treatment of asthma.

Also in the 1970s Dr Frederick Sanger developed a way to spell out the instructions contained in DNA as a coded sequence of four chemical letters. This ‘spelling' specifies the genetic instructions that are the blueprint for all living organisms. This work provided the foundations for the Human Genome Project, with the promise of medical treatments tailored to an individual's genetic make-up.

LMB's founding Director, Max Perutz, pioneered methods to determine the three-dimensional atomic structure of proteins. Such work continues at LMB, with Venki Ramakrishnan's recent elucidation of the structure of the bacterial ribosome, a key part of the machinery that manufactures proteins and the most complex molecular structure yet determined with over half a million atoms. This structure is being used to design new antibiotics, and also provides the starting point for ambitious plans to engineer bacteria to make protein-like molecules with completely new chemical features, an approach known as "synthetic biology".

Other work at LMB includes studies of the immune system, the brain's clock, the molecular basis of neurodegenerative diseases, and new approaches to cancer drugs