Researchers working in a laboratory - part of the Peninsula Medical Foundation 

Successful medical and scientific research require two things above all else: Great people and top-of-the-line equipment and instrumentation

For that, institutions – whether universities, specialised institutions or laboratories – need funding from bodies such as research councils, commercial partners, or philanthropic foundations and donors. The University of Plymouth is no exception and receives significant funding across its faculties and research institutes to help conduct its work – from microplastics to mantle cell lymphoma; cybersecurity to clinical psychology. Here are two recent examples of how two very different types of funding can make a significant difference to medical research.

Great people

The University’s Peninsula Medical School is home to one of just three Brain Tumour Research Centres of Excellence in the country. With world-leading expertise in low-grade brain tumours, the centre has attracted talented researchers from other institutions. Among them is Dr Juri Na who recently joined the team after five years at Oxford’s oncology centre. 
"I knew the University had a fantastic medical school, and that its Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence was one of just three in the country. But I’ve been really impressed with the work that’s being undertaken and the facilities we have in the Derriford Research Facility. And it helps that I’ve also fallen in love with life in the beautiful South West!"
Dr Juri Na
Since joining, Juri has started work on a project that could ultimately lead to significant improvements in brain tumour treatment. Currently, there are just three techniques used to treat brain tumours – surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy – all of which have drawbacks and potentially negative side effects.
Juri’s work is focused on radiotherapy, a treatment that involves targeting the tumour site with high doses of radiation to kill cancerous cells. But it’s something of a blunt instrument as the radiation does not discriminate between cancerous and healthy cells, destroying them both equally. So, Juri is investigating whether radiotherapy can be improved using a radiosensitiser – an agent that can make cancerous cells more sensitive to radiation. This would enable doctors to both reduce the level of radiation used and to target more precisely the tumour site, limiting the damage to healthy cells. For this, she needs support, and thanks to the generosity of the Plymouth community, a new research PhD post has been funded to work alongside her. The candidate is being recruited and will join Juri in the laboratory on the front line in the fight against cancer.

Developing new treatments can take many years. But if the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that research can deliver progress much faster. It just needs funding, and for people to work together towards a common goal. I know many people who support our work have a personal connection – people they love have been affected by brain tumours, and you cannot help but be touched by that. As a researcher and as a human, you want to succeed as quickly as possible so that it might improve the outcomes for people in the future.


Top of the range equipment and instrumentation

Mass spectrometer
The University excels in many areas of biomedical research, including antimicrobial resistance and vaccine development. Much of this work involves the study of proteins – referred to as proteomics – such as identifying new antibiotic candidates, or the validation of new drug targets and biomarkers for brain tumours.
One piece of equipment commonly used across proteomics is the mass spectrometer, which enables researchers to measure the weights and chemical structures of proteins. And now, thanks to a capital grant from the Wolfson Foundation, scientists at the University are benefiting from a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer that enables them to analyse samples ten times faster than their pre-existing machines.
Mass spectrometer

Proteomics investigates how different proteins interact with each other and the roles they play within the organism. The advanced technology of the new mass spectrometer will substantially improve our ability to craft a global view of the processes underlying healthy and diseased cellular activity at the protein level. The work that we do in this area already has huge real-world implications and this new investment will speed translation of research into action.

Professor Sube Bannerjee, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health

The Wolfson Foundation is an independent, grant-making charity with a focus on research and education. Its aim is to support civil society by investing in excellent projects in science, health, heritage, humanities and the arts across the UK.
The University was awarded a six-figure sum to help fund the procurement of the device. The versatility of the new model will also facilitate a wider range of research applications, increasing the potential for local, national and international collaboration. 
“We’re incredibly grateful to the Wolfson Foundation for their funding and recognising how much impact this piece of equipment will have on the work taking place here,” added Sube. “What’s great about this project too is that £50,000 was funded by small donations – from people’s kindness and personal fundraising endeavours. It’s brilliant that they can see their funding being put to use in such an impactful way.”  

Thanks to you

When you donate to the University, we make your money go as far as possible. Donations from graduates and friends raised £50,000 towards this vital new mass spectrometer and 50% of the money needed for the new PhD post. Your support was then used to attract the remaining funding. We now aim to fund another PhD post – starting our fundraising again from scratch. If you’d like to help brain tumour research move ahead, and give a new researcher the opportunity to dedicate their working life to finding new cures and treatments, we’d be extremely grateful for your support.
Get in touch with the team to find out more:
Brain tumours kill more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer.