New lab in Kent researches cancer treatment and animal IVF

Canterbury Christ Church University has officially opened their new Life Sciences Industry Liaison Lab and brought science back to Discovery Park's Building 500.

The lab will give the University’s students the opportunity to gain experience of working with industry and help to build the skills needed to work in the sector.

It will also allow for postgraduate students and staff to work directly with industry and local companies on research projects that address their specific challenges and provide research that has contemporary relevance to today’s society. Some of the research projects already underway in the labs by Christ Church PhD students include using tarantula venom to help find a treatment for pancreatic cancer and improving IVF success rates and embryo freezing techniques in pigs and cattle.

Dr Carol Trim is researching the use of tarantula venom to help find a treatment for pancreatic cancer, which has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers. Working with Venomtech, Dr Trim is seeking to find which molecules from venom can block a ‘receptor’ in a cancer cell. Venom has already proved successful in blocking receptors for other cancers; by blocking the receptor in the cell it is possible to stop the cell from growing and developing more cancerous cells. Synthetic venom has already been used successfully in cancer drugs.

Dr Katie Fowler, an expert in non-human embryology is working with Genea on improving in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) success rates and embryo freezing techniques in agricultural animals, predominately in pigs. 

The high fat content in several species of non-human animal embryos, including pigs, makes them exceptionally difficult to work with under a microscope as the embryos are very dark in colour. This in turn makes signs of fertilisation difficult to see and also makes the freezing process far more challenging.

Dr Fowler hopes that by succeeding in getting a more reliable outcome and higher success rate for animal embryology, the process can start to be implemented by agricultural companies, which means frozen embryos rather than livestock will be transported around the world.

Dr Simon Harvey, Director of Life Sciences at Canterbury Christ Church University, said: “The University is proud to support research that has contemporary relevance to today’s society and we are delighted to be entering into this exciting new phase for Christ Church Life Sciences at Discovery Park.

“The Life Sciences Industry Liaison Lab will not only benefit our research projects and partnerships with local companies and industry, but will also give our students the experience of working within an industry setting and help to build the skills needed to work in the sector.

Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, Vice-Chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church, said: “Today’s official opening is the celebration of a partnership between the University, Discovery Park, local authorities and businesses. It is a leading example of how we, as a University with deep-rooted connections to our region, should be looking to develop through collaborations and partnerships such as the Life Sciences Industry Liaison Lab.

“The lab will ensure that we continue to make a contribution to the economic wellbeing of the region in which we work and serve, as well as provide remarkable opportunities for our students and staff to develop their skills and understanding of the industry.”

Discovery Park, which is based at the former Pfizer site at Sandwich, is Europe’s leading science and technology park. Providing world class facilities, a host of international companies from the life science, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, science and technology sectors are now based on the site.

Paul Barber, Managing Director of Discovery Park, added: “In Discovery Park we have created the right environment for business and education institutions to work together and flourish. We always thought that having education on-site, and now postgraduate education and research, would be part of the DNA of Discovery Park. The provision that the lab offers to our companies is already making a positive impact.”

Posted on 16/03/2016