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Manchester team wins £1.2 million grant for ‘cell control’ study

A team investigating how genes respond to hormonal changes and inflammation has been awarded a Wellcome Trust grant of £1.24 million for a five-year study.

The research programme at the National Institute for Health Research's Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) is led by Professor Julian Davis, a consultant endocrinologist at Manchester Royal Infirmary and leader of The University of Manchester's Developmental Biomedicine Research Group.  He is working with Professor Mike White, who recently joined the University's Faculty of Life Sciences from Liverpool University.  Also part of the team is Professor David Rand from the Department of Mathematics at the University of Warwick.

"The aim of the study is to learn more about how tissues control themselves and influence how the body reacts to changes such as puberty or external challenges such as inflammation," explained Prof Davis.  "In previous research we discovered that the activation of genes inside cells is much more dynamic and unstable than we thought, and we now want to look at how particular cells respond in different situations."

The team will study how the body produces an important hormone, prolactin, which is one of many hormones made by the pituitary gland in the brain.  Tumours in the pituitary gland are frequent causes of excessive prolactin and can lead to infertility.  Prolactin is also produced by various other tissues including immune cells, and is thought to be involved in the body's inflammatory response.

"By understanding how the prolactin gene is controlled in individual cells, and how that is influenced by the organisation of cells into tissues, we can understand better how the pituitary gland works, and ultimately how we might develop new treatments for pituitary tumours," said Prof Davis.  "We also hope to learn more about how these hormones are first produced as the pituitary gland develops before birth.

"Using the latest cell imaging techniques, we will measure the amount of light produced by prolactin-producing pituitary and immune cells.  We aim to create mathematical models to understand how different cells within tissues may become co-ordinated, during embryonic development and during hormonal changes such as pregnancy.  Studying these patterns will give us new insight into the way cells react to their environment, and in the long term should help with the development of better treatments."