Attenborough opens Functional Genetics Unit

Professor Kay Davies and Lord Attenborough at the opening of the FGU
[Photo: Oxford County Newspapers]

Lord Attenborough, CBE, visited Oxford on 5 July to open a new MRC Functional Genetics Unit (FGU) in the University's Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics. The Unit will be headed by Professor Kay Davies, CBE, Dr Lee's Professor of Anatomy and Genetics and a Fellow of Hertford College.

The FGU is funded by £5.6 million from the MRC over five years, and is poised to make a key contribution to the post-genome challenge of determining the function of genes and their relevance to human disease. A major theme of its work will be neuromuscular and motor neurone disease, in particular Duchenne muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy. Diseases such as Parkinson's, stroke, and myasthemias will also be studied, using the most advanced genetic models and systems available.

The muscular dystrophies are a group of genetic diseases in which the skeletal muscles gradually waste away. The most severe form, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, affects one in 3,000 boys, with symptoms beginning in early childhood. There are no effective treatments and affected boys are usually confined to wheelchairs by 12 years of age, and die in their late teens or early twenties as their heart and respiratory muscles succumb.

The group of scientists who will staff the FGU have already devised mini-dystrophin proteins and identified a protein called utrophin, which may be able to compensate for the absence of dystrophin and prevent muscles from wasting away.

Lord Attenborough, who is President of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said: `I am really excited about the work being done at this Unit. It is at the cutting edge of genetic science and I am looking forward to seeing the results of the research conducted here, which will have a real impact on health.'

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