Sarahjane Dawe, Jamie Lake and Liz Fedrick, local fundraisers supporting research into Huntington's disease at the University of Plymouth

Sarahjane Dawe, Jamie Lake and Liz Fedrick, local fundraisers supporting research into Huntington's disease at the University of Plymouth

World-leading research into Huntington’s disease at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (PUPSMD) has received a boost from impressive local fundraising and matched funding via the Peninsula Medical Foundation from the Hospital Saturday Fund.

Researchers from PUPSMD are investigating the potential of manipulating activity at a cellular level in order to develop an effective therapy for Huntington’s disease.

The team is analysing a protein called Bim, which causes cell death in various tissues including those of the brain. At present it is unclear how Bim levels and activity increase in Huntington’s disease, and the study will aim to identify the mechanism which allows this increase. By understanding the mechanism and how it works, the way could be open for manipulating it to create an effective therapy for the disease.

Huntington’s disease is an hereditary disorder of the nervous system caused by a faulty gene on chromosome four. The faulty gene leads to nerve damage in the area of the brain resulting in gradual physical, mental and emotional changes. Those born to a parent with Huntington’s disease have a 50:50 chance of developing it, and there is currently no cure.

A group of local people affected by the condition visited the PUPSMD laboratories to meet with Dr Shouqing Luo and his team, and as a result of their visit decided to focus their fundraising activities on raising money for his research.

Over the past year or so they have arranged a ball, karaoke evenings, a ‘Devonport’s Got Talent’ evening and taken part in activities such as skydiving and sponsored aerobics.

They have raised an amazing £10,000 which has been matched by a further £10,000 from the charity the Hospital Saturday Fund. The money will enable the purchase of a Thermo Scientific Multiskan GO Micorplate Spectrophotometer which will help Dr Luo and his team further their research.

The local fundraising group has now focused its attention on raising a further £5,000 for an urgently-needed fluorescent microscope. They are already on track to meet this target – a recent ‘aerobathon’ raised £1280 and there are other fundraising activities in the offing.

The local fundraising group includes Liz Fedrick and Jamie Lake, who has Huntington’s disease as does his father. They said: 

“A group of us went on a lab tour and met the research team at the University, and we decided there and then that we would raise money to support their work in finding a treatment for the disease. It is great to be able to raise money for a condition which affects us personally, and for research taking place right on our doorstep to help find a cure. We know that every penny we raise will go towards this important work.”

Dr Luo added: 

“Our work is underpinned by £520,000 from the Medical Research Council, but the money raised by our amazing supporters in the region means we can invest in equipment which will help us extend our work still further. We are immensely grateful to Liz, Jamie and their colleagues for their support, and to the Hospital Saturday Fund for choosing to provide matched funding via the Peninsula Medical Foundation.”

Denis Wilkins, Chair of the Peninsula Medical Foundation, commented: 

“We are delighted that the Hospital Saturday Fund has been able to fund our support of this research. We are actively fundraising for the Derriford Research Facility, which will be a game-changing asset for medical research in this part of the South West.”

John Greenwood, Chair of the Hospital Saturday Fund, said: 

“We never fail to be impressed by the quality and relevance of research carried out at PUPSMD. Our tour of the new Derriford Research Facility was enormously interesting and we can see that it will serve the future of world-leading research in Plymouth for decades to come. It was a pleasure to meet local fundraisers – their enthusiasm and commitment was great to see and stand testament to the pride local people are taking in research carried out at PUPSMD.”

Research into a cure for Huntington’s disease is just one of dozens of research projects which will be taking place in the University’s new £14.8 million Derriford Research Facility when it opens this summer.

From brain tumours to vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, tissue regeneration to hepatitis, antibiotic resistance to innovative therapies for cancer, a new £14.8 million research facility will bring together Plymouth University’s medical, dental and biomedical laboratory-based research under one roof. Its location adjacent to Derriford Hospital will support the ‘bench to bedside’ approach and achieve a faster translation of biomedical research into clinical solutions, giving hope to millions of people around the world who may benefit from the discoveries and therapies found by Plymouth scientists.

Many individuals, community groups and businesses from across the region are supporting the Derriford Research Facility, from one-off donations to ongoing fundraising campaigns.

It is a great way to not only support research into curing a condition which may affect or devastate you or someone you care about, but also to help maintain and develop world-leading research right here in Devon.