Who’s working on the Cambridge Innovation Hub on lung health?
The Innovation Hub aims to harness multidisciplinary world-class research to speed up progress towards preventing lung damage in cystic fibrosis (CF) and the subsequent loss of lung function. To achieve these aims the Innovation Hub will bring together global experts from medical sciences and other fields such as molecular biology, genetics, drug discovery, computer science and regenerative medicine.
This Innovation Hub aims to harness multidisciplinary world-class research to speed up progress towards preventing lung damage in cystic fibrosis (CF) and the subsequent loss of lung function.
The Hub will achieve this aim by focussing on three key research areas:
- New approaches to treat infection and chronic lung inflammation
- Accurate diagnosis of and earlier intervention for lung exacerbations
- Developing regenerative-medicine approaches to treatment
The day-to-day management of these key research areas within the Innovation Hub are the responsibility of the Academic Leads: Professor Andres Floto, Professor Julian Parkhill, Professor Sir Tom Blundell, Professor Chris Abell and Professor Ludovic Vallier.
Professor Andres Floto is also the Director of the Innovation Hub, overseeing the whole programme of work.
Meet the Academic Leads of the Innovation Hub
Professor Andres Floto
The Innovation Hub is being led by Professor Floto. He is Professor of Respiratory Biology at the University of Cambridge, a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator and Research Director of the Cambridge Centre for Lung Infection at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge.
Professor Floto’s research is focused on understanding how immune cells interact with bacteria, how intracellular killing and inflammation are regulated and sometimes subverted during infection, how population-level whole genome sequencing can be used to reveal biology of bacterial infection, and how therapeutic enhancement of cell-autonomous immunity may provide novel strategies to treat multi-drug-resistant pathogens.
Clinically, he specialises in the treatment of people with CF and non-CF bronchiectasis and those infected with Nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM).
Professor Julian Parkhill FRS
Professor Parkhill is one of the academic leads for the ‘New approaches to treat infection and chronic lung infection’ workstream of the Innovation Hub. He leads a team in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge.
Professor Parkhill is a genetics researcher who is interested in understanding pathogens (bugs that cause disease) by analysing their DNA. He uses high-throughput DNA sequencing and phenotyping to study the variety and diversity of pathogens, how they affect virulence (toxicity) and transmission, and what they tell us about how disease-causing bugs change and evolve over time and how they interact with the person they’re infecting.
Professor Sir Tom Blundell FRS
Professor Blundell is one of the academic leads for the ‘New approaches to treat infection and chronic lung infection’ workstream of the Innovation Hub. He is based at the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge.
Professor Blundell was founding Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 1991–1996, Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environment 1998–2005, Deputy Chair of the Institute of Cancer Research since 2008 and President of the UK Science Council since 2011. He is the co-founder of two drug discovery companies: Astex and Biofabrika.
Professor Blundell has written extensive software for structural bioinformatics and developed new approaches to structure-guided and fragment-based drug discovery. In his lab he is focusing on the design of new antimicrobials for tuberculosis and targeting protein-protein interactions for cancer therapeutics.
Professor Chris Abell FRS
Professor Abell died suddenly at the end of October 2020. His cystic fibrosis research will continue in his lab.
Professor Abell was one of the academic leads for the ‘New approaches to treat infection and chronic lung infection’ workstream of the Innovation Hub.
Professor Abell was Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Professor of Biological Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Academy of Medical Sciences, and cofounder of Astex, Sphere Fluidics and Aqdot, and was a founding director of Cambridge Enterprise [ https://www.enterprise.cam.ac.uk/ ].
He pioneered the development of the use of fragments to address the challenge of designing small molecules that interact selectively with large biological molecules. This approach involves close interaction between many academic disciplines such as synthetic organic chemistry, biophysics and structural biology.
Professor Ludovic Vallier
Professor Vallier is the academic lead for the ‘Developing regenerative medicine approaches to treatment’ workstream of the Innovation Hub. He is Professor of Regenerative Medicine affiliated to the Department of Surgery Cambridge University. He is also a Senior Group Leader jointly based at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and director of the Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre hIPSCs core facility.
Professor Vallier’s research group studies the basic molecular mechanisms controlling cell fate decisions during early embryonic development and in adult organs. For that, his group utilises human pluripotent stem cells as in vitro model of development. The resulting knowledge is then exploited for generating cells from the pancreas, liver, gut and lung. The resulting cells are then used for clinical applications including disease modelling and cell-based therapy.
Dr John Winn
Dr Winn is working on the ‘Accurate diagnosis of and earlier intervention for lung exacerbations’ workstream of the Innovation Hub, and is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, Cambridge, in the Machine Learning and Perception group. His research focuses on tools and languages that make it easier to do machine learning and machine vision. In the medical domain, he has applied his machine-learning tools to help understand childhood asthma and lung aging, and he is now applying these tools to cystic fibrosis data.
Dr Winn’s work has been used in the Xbox Kinect body tracker and for detecting email clutter in Microsoft Office.
Dr Winn has cystic fibrosis.
Within each of the key research areas, a number of researchers are employed exclusively working on Innovation Hub research:
Aim 1: New approaches to treat infection and chronic lung inflammation
This workstream aims to develop new antibiotics to fight the bacteria carried by people with CF and to develop new, more effective ways to treat long-term inflammation in cystic fibrosis.
Professor Floto, Professor Parkhill, Sir Blundell and Professor Abell are contributing to this workstream.
Dr Sophie Burbaud is a post-doctoral research assistant working with Professors Floto and Parkhill. Her research is focused on identifying the best drug targets for new antibiotics against Mycobacterium abscessus by systematically changing and adjusting protein production levels of every gene in the bacteria. From analysis of this data the researchers will be able to define all the essential genes in the genome and how vulnerable they are to targeting by drugs.
Louise Ellison is a research assistant working with Professors Floto and Parkhill. She is in the process of building a complete ‘wiring diagram’ of how Pseudomonas aeruginosa behaves by examining how 11,000 gene defects in the bacteria behave and cause infection. Machine-learning approaches will be applied to the data she generates making it possible to predict key drug (novel antibiotic) targets of Pseudomonas based on its genome sequence.
Dr Shiefh Arif is a post-doctoral research assistant working in Sir Blundell’s laboratory. He is currently working on a new drug target in the Pseudomonas bacteria. A range of analytical techniques, including x-ray crystallography, are being used to test how well fragments fit into the chosen drug target.
Dr Odiri Eneje is a Clinical Research Fellow working with Professor Floto. She is looking for novel anti-inflammatory drugs to treat people with cystic fibrosis. She is researching whether they can identify selectively-acting drugs that reduce inflammatory lung damage while preserving bacterial killing and protective immunity. To do this she is studying the effects of several re-purposed drugs (many of which are already licenced for other conditions). The results of her lab-based studies will help identify the best would-be drug to test in very early clinical studies in people (known as experimental medicine studies).
Aim 2: Accurate diagnosis of and earlier intervention for lung exacerbations
This workstream aims to apply machine-learning analysis to a range of data sources from clinical home monitoring, to production and analysis of large biomarker datasets to predict and diagnose exacerbations.
This work is being led by Professor Floto, who is actively collaborating with Dr Winn at Cambridge-based Microsoft Research.
Judy Ryan is Project Manager for the Innovation Hub. She has over 30 years’ experience of working as a nurse, and for the last 15 of which she has managed research studies at the Cambridge Centre for Lung Infections, including many clinical trials in cystic fibrosis. As well as having oversight of the collaboration of world-class researchers throughout the UK and beyond working on the Innovation Hub, she also has responsibility for coordinating the clinical home-monitoring study.
Aim 3: Developing regenerative medicine approaches to treatment
This workstream aims to use stem-cell and gene-editing technology to create human lung cells in the lab. These will be used to create new, more accurate ways to test new drugs in the lab and to develop a therapy to repair damaged lung cells.
This work is being led by Professor Vallier.
Dr Marta Vilà González is a post-doctoral research assistant working in Professor Vallier’s lab. She is creating lung epithelial cells from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). She will use these to understand more about how other parts of the cell affect the CFTR receptor and how it works. The cells that she is creating will also be used in early studies to look at a cell therapy for cystic fibrosis. Her work is very collaborative, working with other academic leads within the Innovation Hub and colleagues across the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.
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