Expertise in advanced imaging and analysis recognised by £10 million investment

In partnership with the University of Nottingham an innovative collaborative centre has been established to advance the study of membrane proteins and receptors using advanced imaging techniques. The expertise in microscopy and advanced image analysis, and the collaborations established through the Physical Sciences for Imaging in the Biomedical Sciences (PSIBS) and Physical Sciences for Health (Sci-Phy) centres were key for the successful outcome of the competitive externally reviewed bid process. The Centre of Membrane Proteins and Receptors (COMPARE) will develop novel methods for visualising single membrane proteins and use these to identify new approaches for prevention and treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

COMPARE will bring together leading researchers to develop and apply advanced imaging and analysis techniques. The £10 million investment is enabling the creation of a joint “Signature Institute” to draw together the world class strength in the two universities in the field of membrane receptors and proteins. The physical and computational sciences that are essential for the success of COMPARE are founded on the significant body of work conducted in Birmingham by students and academics in the PSIBS and Sci-Phy centres and this expertise was a key part in the success of the application for funding.

Demonstrable success of collaborations established through EPSRC CDT key in leveraging funds

The structure of the CDT programme, with projects requiring a supervisor from each of the biomedical, physical and computational sciences, and students completing 3 short research projects in the first year, followed by the main PhD project, presented many opportunities for collaboration between academics who would not otherwise have interacted. EPSRC CDT projects directly relevant to the scope of COMPARE have resulted in 5 awarded PhDs, 3 in writing-up status and one further in progress; 5 peer-reviewed publications; and 27 conference presentations, clearly demonstrating the ongoing success of collaborations in this area. The ability to highlight these successes as evidence of the quality and breadth of work already established at the University of Birmingham, and the networks established through the PSIBS and Sci-Phy centres was an essential part of the application.

Future opportunities for Sci-Phy students

As a result of the successful leveraging of funds based on the ongoing success and expertise highlighted here, the new Institute will in turn benefit students in the Sci-Phy centre, by bringing in new facilities - the first lattice light sheet microscope in the UK has recently been installed - and further cementing the University of Birmingham’s place as a centre of expertise in advanced imaging and analysis techniques.

There is a need for centres such as COMPARE to have significant input from physical and computational scientists, as high-end microscopy remains a young field with many challenges in imaging science and analysis created by the capabilities of the new instruments.  In future COMPARE will joint fund projects with Sci-Phy, focusing on technique development to address these ongoing challenges, placing Sci-Phy students at the front and centre of the frontier of this rapidly developing field.