Babraham scientists awarded inaugural Wellcome Trust Investigator Awards

Babraham scientists awarded inaugural Wellcome Trust Investigator Awards

Two Babraham scientists are amongst the first recipients of the inaugural Wellcome Trust Investigator Awards, which are providing £56 million of funding over 7 years for exceptional researchers addressing the most important questions about health and disease.

The Wellcome Trust has appointed 27 Investigators (7 New Investigators and 20 Senior Investigators), based mainly at institutions across the UK, with awards ranging from around £1 million to £3 million. From a list of 750 applicants, 173 were selected to complete an application which was assessed by nine review panels. Fifty-five candidates were then invited to attend a “star chamber” of prominent researchers to pitch their scientific proposal.

Dr Klaus Okkenhaug, a group leader at the Babraham Institute, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), is one of the new investigators, awarded funding to support his research for five years. He said, “I am both delighted and grateful for having won this generous award from the Wellcome Trust. The award is testament to my team’s hard work and commitment to explore the immunological roles for the PI3K family of enzymes. Our research increases our understanding of how this ancient family of enzymes has been expanded and adapted through evolution to carry out new and interesting biological functions. The research also has direct relevance for the development of new medicines that aim to alleviate autoimmunity and inflammation while at the same time maintaining strong immunity against infections.”

Professor Wolf Reik, Associate Director of the Babraham Institute and Professor of Epigenetics at the University of Cambridge, is one of the Senior Investigators appointed in these inaugural Awards. He leads an internationally-leading team studying ‘epigenetic programming’ to understand the molecular signals and switches that ensure an embryo develops correctly into an adult. Greater understanding of the biology behind this ‘reprogramming’ may help to explain how epigenetic changes occurring during ageing can cause disease, since conditions like heart disease and autoimmune disorders may be associated with failure of epigenetic regulation. Professor Reik said, “I am delighted about this award which, with its flexible funding, will allow my laboratory to pursue long term goals in understanding the mechanisms and basic biology of epigenetic reprogramming.”

Professor Michael Wakelam, Director of the Babraham Institute said, “We are delighted that two of our scientists have been awarded these highly prestigious grants, which will support fundamental research into the bioscience underpinning health. This is a clear recognition of the quality of science at Babraham.”

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said, "The Wellcome Trust Investigators, together with our existing Fellowship holders, represent some of the very brightest minds in biomedical science. They are seeking answers to challenging research questions that could potentially transform our understanding of the mechanisms of health and disease. We are demonstrating our confidence in these outstanding individuals by providing longer-term, flexible funding; in return, we expect that they will make significant advances in knowledge in their field and act as ambassadors within the research community, helping us achieve our aim of improving human and animal health."

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Notes to Editors:
About the Babraham Institute:
The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, health and well-being and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.