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2 August 2011

Society member new director for the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit

Professor Dario Alessi FRS, FRSE , has been appointed Director of the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Protein Phosphorylation Unit at the University of Dundee. He will succeed the current Director, Sir Philip Cohen, in April 2012.

The MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit is the only research unit in the world dedicated to the study of protein phosphorylation, a versatile process that regulates almost all aspects of cell life. Abnormalities in protein phosphorylation are a cause of many diseases including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.

Dario is currently Deputy Director of the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit and also Professor of Signal Transduction in the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee. His research career spans over 20 years and his appointment as Director is testament to his pioneering research in this field.

In 2005 Dario was awarded the EMBO Gold Medal, Europe’s most prestigious research prize for life scientists under the age of 40. He was also invited to deliver the Francis Crick Prize Lecture of the Royal Society in 2006 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2008.

Drugs that treat abnormally high levels of phosphorylation are currently having a major impact on the treatment of cancer and over 50 per cent of the pharmaceutical industry’s research and development budget is spent on this topic. The MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit plays a major role in drug discovery and development through a long-standing collaboration with five of the world’s major pharmaceutical companies. This partnership, called the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy, has become a model for effective collaboration between academia and industry.

Under Dario Alessi’s direction, the Unit’s future remit will be expanded to study the role of an emerging form of cell biology called ubiquitylation. Early research suggests that ubiquitylation rivals phosphorylation in its global importance for wider scientific understanding. There is great expectation that better knowledge of ubiquitylation and its relationship with phosphorylation could hold the key to determining the causes of many diseases and could lead to the development of new classes of medicine.

Speaking about his appointment, Dario said: “It is a tremendous privilege to take over the helm of the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit from Sir Philip Cohen. Sir Philip will be a hard act to follow, but I am looking forward to the extraordinary opportunities that lie ahead.

“This is an exhilarating time in phosphorylation and ubiquitylation research and my main aim will be to position the unit as a focal point for collaboration between life scientists, pharmaceutical companies and clinicians. It is my strong belief that this is where we can make the most critical contribution to medical research, together reaching a deeper understanding of disease and developing more effective treatments.”

Speaking in support of Dario’s appointment, MRC Chief Executive Sir John Savill said: “I am delighted that Professor Alessi has been appointed as Director of the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit. Professor Alessi is an exceptional scientist having made significant contributions to our understanding of the role of protein phosphorylation in cell regulation and human disease. Under his direction I feel confident that he will build on the unit’s world-leading reputation and excellent track record, ensuring that it remains at the forefront of medical research.”

Commenting on Professor Alessi’s appointment at the new Director of the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit, the current Director, Sir Philip Cohen, said: “I am really delighted that Dario has been selected to be the next Director of the MRC Protein Phosphorylation, and am confident that he will build on what has been achieved over the last 21 years and bring it to a new level. I should also make it clear that although I am stepping down as the Unit’s Director next April, I will not be retiring and indeed have recently signed a new six year contract with the University of Dundee. I am greatly looking forward to pursuing with even greater vigour my research programme aimed at understanding how the innate immune system is regulate, when I will be free from the administrative burden of running the Unit.”

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